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Chuck Carney
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Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013

IU education professor finds wide variety among dual-credit course policies, terminology

Report for Higher Learning Commission outlines national picture

June 4, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A recently released report co-authored by an Indiana University School of Education faculty member found that states vary on terminology and policy regarding dual-credit programs, and the "Great Recession" may have limited more substantial growth.

Victor Borden, professor of higher education and policy studies and senior advisor to IU's executive vice president for university regional affairs, planning and policy, is co-author of "Dual Credit in U.S. Higher Education: A Study of State Policy and Quality Assurance Practices," a report commissioned by the Higher Learning Commission. The report was conducted on behalf of the Council of Regional Accreditation Commissions and with support from the Lumina Foundation.

The Higher Learning Commission is one of six regional institutional accreditors in the U.S. The commission accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region, covering 19 states.

Participation in dual-credit courses, which offer high school students the opportunity to earn college credit for coursework most commonly offered through the high school by a postsecondary institution, is dramatically increasing across the country. Borden said the report was commissioned by the Higher Learning Commission to get a better handle on state policies. According to federal numbers, dual-credit enrollment is up about 75 percent over the past eight years, with more than 2 million students enrolled.

The Higher Learning Commission's "major concern was is there anything they need to watch out for since these courses are offered by the institutions they accredit," Borden said. "Is there anything about it that sneaks under the radar or gets through their accreditation processes?"

Among the primary findings is a great variety of policies across the states. While dual-credit programs have existed for decades, the many new programs and policies across states have resulted in a variety of basic terms and definitions, even within single states.

Programs are described interchangeably as dual credit, dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment. Most states have more than one state agency involved in program oversight. Most dual-credit policies apply to public institutions across the states, although some include private institutions. While only five states require colleges to offer dual-credit courses, 10 states (including Indiana) require high schools to offer college course options, and another seven encourage high schools to do so.

Borden said that while more states have offered more policies on dual credit in the past decade, that has added to the variation in policies. He said that because of the different environments of postsecondary accreditation and high school quality assessment, bringing the two together has proven challenging.

The study notes that more states have created policies for quality control than in the past, with 37 of the 47 states in the study having eligibility requirements for both students and instructors. The majority of states require accountability reporting.

"Some recognized features of accreditation in terms of ensuring that there is dialogue and partnership between the postsecondary and secondary institutions and ongoing evaluation of the instructors," Borden said.

Other findings include a variation in funding for dual-credit courses. Twenty-four states fund the courses directly, while others require students to pay part of course costs.

The report concludes that a consensus on terminology would help overall development of dual-credit courses across the country. It also notes that state agencies are strengthening overall polices on quality, and many other states have intentions to do more such policy work in the future.

It also finds that the tight state financial budgets have limited the effectiveness of dual credit as a way to provide more postsecondary access. The report states there is insufficient evidence to determine whether it has improved access for underrepresented students, although recent studies appear to be making some headway in demonstrating this impact, especially with career-oriented programs.

Borden led a team of graduate interns in the research. His co-authors on the report are Jason L. Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Eunkyoung Park, a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education and student affairs program at the IU School of Education, now working as a research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, D.C.; and David J. Seiler, a history instructor at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., and a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana State University in the educational administration program.