A shortage of qualified instructors threatens to derail dual enrollment. JFF recommends 3 big ideas for creating a long-term pipeline of faculty who can teach college-level courses to high school students.
Mounds View Public Schools, a medium-size, increasingly diverse district just outside Minneapolis, was stuck. The system had partnered with a local community college to develop a robust dual enrollment program that enables high school students to earn college credit for free.
The courses were taught by Mounds View teachers, in their classrooms, with approval and support from college faculty. But there was one big problem: The district didn’t have enough qualified instructors to meet the growing demand.
Dual enrollment is a popular and effective strategy for increasing college success, particularly for low-income and underserved youth.
The accreditor that oversees colleges in Minnesota and 18 other states — the Higher Learning Commission — required that dual enrollment instructors have a master’s degree in the subject they teach. Only one in four dual enrollment teachers in Minnesota met this requirement, according to state data from 2016, leaving the future of programs like Mounds View’s in jeopardy.
Dual enrollment is a popular and effective strategy for increasing college success, particularly for low-income and underserved youth. Yet a small fraction of high school teachers have the training required to teach college courses.
The impact? Just as dual enrollment programs are scaling up nationwide, they face an acute staffing shortage that threatens to derail their progress.
To address what has become a crisis in many states, some school districts, such as Mounds View, have used financial incentives to boost the number of high school teachers qualified to teach college-level classes. These include tuition assistance for teachers who take relevant graduate courses and salary incentives for those who pursue and eventually achieve dual enrollment teaching qualifications.
But to expand the number of dual enrollment instructors enough to meet nationwide demand, states and districts must do a lot more. They need to develop long-term solutions that will build, from the start, a high-quality teaching force at the intersection of high school and college.
JFF recently partnered with Mounds View and the Denver Public Schools to implement and study a range of strategies to increase their dual enrollment teaching corps. In a recent report, JFF describes the innovative efforts of these districts as well as the constraints they faced, and makes three ambitious recommendations that policymakers, advocates, and education leaders would be wise to consider:
1. Re-envision typical training pathways for high school teachers: The most common route to advancement for high school teachers is completion of a master’s degree in education. What if we offered teacher candidates — earlier in their professional training — the opportunity to earn a “content-area specialization” while also earning their master’s in education? Universities and districts together could design such programs, and new teachers would enter the workforce ready to teach both high school and college courses.
2. Change state licensing rules to reward qualified dual enrollment instructors: States could offer an advanced license to teachers who complete requirements for teaching at both the college and the high school level. States could also attach financial incentives to these advanced licenses.
3. Require both high school and community college educators to have training in effective instructional strategies for adolescent learners: Students in the last two years of high school and first two years of college need the same kinds of supports to master academic content, develop their critical thinking, and learn other life skills. Therefore, both high school teachers and two-year college faculty should be trained in how to support student success — just as both should be required to demonstrate expertise in the academic subject that they are teaching.
If we truly want to fulfill the promise and potential of dual enrollment programs to help low-income and underserved students achieve high school and college success, we must shift our mindset and think big.
Implementing these recommendations would require collaboration among diverse and sometimes competing stakeholder groups, including K-12 districts, universities, state policymakers, and educators themselves.
While Mounds View’s financial incentives have helped expand its number of qualified dual enrollment teachers, district-by-district approaches are too slow and siloed to close the nationwide gap without broader changes.
If we truly want to fulfill the promise and potential of dual enrollment programs to help low-income and underserved students achieve high school and college success, we must shift our mindset and think big. Let’s develop cross-sector solutions that will build a stronger and more flexible pool of educators who can teach on either side of the secondary-postsecondary divide.
Sarah Hooker is an associate director at JFF who researches and prototypes solutions for expanding high-quality dual enrollment programs. To learn more visit www.jff.org.