Credit Check

Kids rack up university credits right there in high school. And their districts and colleges ring up ample revenues in the process. But are the students really learning?

"It's cost-effective," says U.S. Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez of the San Antonio area. According to Rodriguez, who authored the successful college credit bill as a state legislator, there were more than 11,000 concurrent dual credit students enrolled statewide in the fall of 1999, the most recent statistic available.

"We've had some kids who can start [college] as sophomores," Rodriguez says. "If you've got problems down there, it is because it is not being implemented properly. It's a darn good program when being used appropriately."

But some NHMCCD faculty members aren't sure it's a darn good program at all. In fact, they think the bill has opened a Pandora's box of academic issues that no one is addressing. And they believe the ultimate losers are the students.

U.S. Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez thinks concurrent dual credit is cost-effective for the state.
U.S. Congressman Ciro D. Rodriguez thinks concurrent dual credit is cost-effective for the state.
NHMCCD Chancellor John Pickelman thinks angry faculty members are being "elitist."
Gittings & Lorfing
NHMCCD Chancellor John Pickelman thinks angry faculty members are being "elitist."

If the upset faculty members have leaders, they are Nancy Kral and political science colleague Carolyn Davis, a professor at North Harris College (Tomball, North Harris, Montgomery College and Kingwood College make up the NHMCCD). The two have written and documented dozens of letters and e-mails among the faculty, administration, government officials and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Davis, a professor for 23 years at North Harris, speaks passionately about defending the tradition of "the academy." She worries that NHMCCD is turning into a "credit mill" with little thought given to the quality of some of the dual credit classes.

"In the end, we work very hard to make sure that the caliber of the course work we have is similar if not better than what they would be receiving if they were going off to A&M or Austin," says Davis. "For them to now lump these courses in without even letting us know, and we say they're not equivalent? They don't take our word for it."

At first glance, the new face of concurrent dual credit seems simple enough. Public school districts form operating agreements with a community college district. NHMCCD has agreements with all 15 ISDs in its service area.

In the spring 2001 semester, 2,220 high school students took advantage of the program at NHMCCD (around 8 percent of the district's 26,000 enrollment). These eligible high school students take college courses during the high school day, in the high school building. They are taught by high school instructors who must have a master's degree and at least 18 graduate hours in the discipline they are teaching.

The state reimburses the community college based on a funding formula determined by the legislature. The college pays the school district instructors at a basic adjunct teacher's rate. The only cost to the high school student is a registration and technology fee (about $20 a class at NHMCCD).

Those provisions cover the financial aspects and basic qualifications for teachers and students involved in the program, but the overriding problem is that there's no system of effective checks and balances to make sure the program is being implemented correctly.

General rules are set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency that oversees state colleges and universities. But even though the board can establish regulations and conduct enrollment audits to verify correct procedures are being followed, it doesn't investigate complaints about the content of the courses. When Kral and other political science faculty members appealed to the agency, the board decided the NHMCCD administration could handle the problem internally.

"We don't spell out in those rules a procedure for investigating a complaint from the faculty," says Don Brown, the board's commissioner of higher education. "We don't have a regulatory force or police force."

Glenda Barron, the board's assistant commissioner for community and technical colleges, acknowledges the professors' concerns but admits she's at a loss for a solution.

"I can't imagine the faculty going to the extreme they have gone to to reach us and others unless they truly believe something is wrong," she says. "But I just don't see a role for us. If there is a concern of quality, we think it should be the institution's responsibility."

Brown and Barron say most complaints should be dealt with internally on the college level. However, Kral, Davis and other upset faculty members say they have become so frustrated with the administration's inaction and the lack of districtwide standards that they can turn to no one else but the press to make their point.

"You have to have much more in-depth review," says Davis. "That's what the coordinating board thinks is going on. But it's not going on."

Administrators flatly reject the accusations that they ignored the faculty's complaints. In fact, they think the faculty shouldn't have many complaints to begin with.

John Pickelman, the NHMCCD chancellor, even seemed to be confused about the nature of the faculty issues -- he referred to structures instead of scholastics, saying:

"I hate to say it, but I think it's elitism on the part of our faculty to say that these classes can't go on in certain buildings."

He and other administrators argue that the school's recent reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS is the major accrediting body for over 12,000 schools in 11 Southern states) proves that NHMCCD is handling the program correctly.

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