State unaffected by new ruling on dual-credit courses

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State unaffected by new ruling on dual-credit courses
By Samuel Speciale, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

A new rule that will require high school teachers of dual-credit courses to have a master’s degree won’t affect the way the popular classes are offered in West Virginia, education officials said Friday.

Earlier this summer, the Higher Learning Commission, a Chicago-based group that accredits western and mid-western colleges and universities, issued a rule requiring anyone teaching the classes to have a master’s degree.

Dual credit courses, whether provided online, in high schools or on a college campus, grant students high school and college credit simultaneously. They have become popular in recent years for giving high school students an early start to their postsecondary education for a reduced price.

The commission’s ruling has been criticized by some who have said the move could shutter the program in other states, as reported by Education Week.

That’s not likely to happen in West Virginia though, a spokeswoman for the Higher Education Policy Commission said.

The state already has a policy establishing the same requirement of its dual credit teachers, commission spokeswoman Jessica Tice told the Gazette-Mail in a text message.

“We have had a policy in place for some time that dual credit teachers have to be qualified to teach at the college level,” she said.

The commission’s policy says faculty teaching early enrollment courses (another name for dual credit classes) must meet the minimum faculty credential requirements as specified by the college and as approved by the department and chief academic officer of the college or university that will grant the credit.

Because high school teachers of these classes in West Virginia must have their course approved by a college and are many times treated like adjunct professors, they already are held to the higher standard.

Melissa Ruddle, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Kanawha County Schools, confirmed most, if not all, her district’s dual credit teachers meet the requirement.

“I’d say 95 percent of them do have that,” she said. “It could be 100 percent, but I never want to say that because you never know.”

She said the classes have grown in popularity in Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district. There are now 33 dual credit courses available. They cost $75.

Ruddle wasn’t sure how many students enrolled, though.

“These classes usually have 15, maybe 20,” she later added.

While the ruling could pose problems for other states, the commission said its decision puts into policy a long-standing expectation that teachers of college-level courses have at least a master’s degree. According to the policy, a teacher of a dual credit course who does not have a master’s degree in the area they teach in must at least have 18 graduate credit hours in that discipline.

West Virginia is ranked favorably among other states, according to a study of state dual credit policies and quality assurance practices conducted by the Higher Learning Commission. While the commission says the state is 13th in its course offerings and fifth in student eligibility, its instructor selection and other quality provisions are middle of the pack. West Virginia’s composite score in that ranking is 13th.

Dual credit classes in West Virginia that are used to meet a high school graduation requirement must be reviewed by the state Department of Education and approved by the state school board, which enacted a policy requiring county boards to adopt policies of their own to allow students to earn college credit outside the school setting.

The Higher Learning Commission’s rule change, which passed in June, was published earlier this month. It goes into affect in September 2017.

The commission oversees the accrediting of degree-granting colleges and universities in several states across the central United States, 36 of which are in West Virginia.