By Karen Uehling
A high school student visiting my campus last spring mentioned that she will be bringing in a large amount of college credits from high school, possibly entering with close to an associate’s degree. Her parents were obviously proud of their hard-working daughter who they believed had saved them a great deal of money in college costs by taking concurrent enrollment classes. The student talked about how she had gotten “her basics out of the way.” It seems Idaho students are encouraged to enter college with as many credits as possible. I was surprised to discover all this, and I wonder how such students will do in upper-division courses at a university.
What is the impetus for this credit stampede? For one thing, Idaho is searching for quick fixes for its underpaid workforce who cannot or do not go on to college. This has led to national advisory groups, state task force reports and recommendations, local advertising campaigns, and more. Like many states, Idaho embraced Complete College America (CCA), and, in 2012, the Idaho State Board of Education endorsed “Complete College Idaho.” CCA, an educational organization, calls itself a “national nonprofit,” but to me it feels corporate in some ways, with its slick, professional website and well-scripted presentations. Linda Adler-Kassner describes movements like CCA as “larger, more powerful, and better funded than any writing teachers, or even any group of writing teachers, will ever be” (136); that description resonates with me. A key element of the Complete College Idaho plan, one still strongly supported by our governor in 2017, is the “ambitious goal that 60% of Idahoans ages 25-34 will have a degree or certificate by 2020” (AKA “60X20”). One element of 60X20 is the “go on” rate in Idaho, which refers to the number of students who continue to college directly after high school. Darlene Dyer, of Wood River High School in Hailey, ID, notes that “for three consecutive years the go-on rate has been slipping”: 2013, 54%; 2014, 52%; 2015, 46%.
In 2016, the legislature passed a resolution of support for 60X20, describing it as “a stretch goal”; however, the resolution carried no additional funding, even though, as a state lawmaker noted, “Idaho is still spending less on higher education than it did in 2009” (Corbin). And in 2017, the governor convened a 36-member higher education task force to support 60X20. According to task force co-chair Bob Lokken, “There is no way we are going to get [to the 60% goal] by 2020. . . . If we could immediately increase by 50 percent the number of people who are getting degrees every year out of all of our two- and four-year institutions, we would have to run at that rate for almost a decade to get to the 60 percent goal” (Roberts).
The 60X20 goal affects first-year writing in that so-called “remedial” writing courses were reconceived as co-requisite courses rather than non-credit, pre-composition level classes, adapted from the acceleration model of the Community College of Baltimore County (ALP). In addition to college acceleration, 60X20 hinges on alternative ways to rack up college credits, including AP courses, CLEP, and other testing mechanisms, and concurrent enrollment with a vengeance. High school students are encouraged to graduate as quickly as possible through challenge exams of high school courses and financial incentives: beginning in fall 2016, all 7th -12th-graders began receiving $4,125 to spend on extra high school classes, exams that speed high school graduation, exams that may carry college credit, and concurrent enrollment college classes (“Advanced Opportunities” brochure). And, not only is there money for concurrent enrollment classes, the classes cost less than regular college attendance: for instance, a teacher at Renaissance High School in Meridian, Idaho, stated that students “can take a class for $195 versus $600 or $700 for the same class on campus” (Beach). Linda Clark, 60X20 task force co-chair, has stated that “Idaho has a unique opportunity. With a State Board that focuses both on K-12 and higher education, Idaho can capitalize on dual credit courses and other initiatives to encourage high school graduates to stay in school” (Richert). It seems extensive concurrent enrollment and related efforts are subverting the role of community colleges or the first two years of four-year colleges.
Secondary students can also qualify for a college scholarship for early high school graduation: $1500 per year skipped (brochure). And students can attempt many college credits: “The Dual Credit for Early Completers program allows students who have completed all their state-required high school graduation requirements early (with the exception of the senior project and the senior math requirement) to take up to 36 college or professional technical credits of dual credit courses, 12 Advanced Placement exams, or 12 College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams paid for by the state” (“Task Force for Improving Education”).
In their book, Composition in the Age of Austerity, Tony Scott and Nancy Welch point out that projects like Complete College America (and its state affiliates, like Complete College Idaho) use “metrics like speed to degree of completion, loan default rates, and post-graduate earnings” (4). These ideas favor “quantification while ignoring or denying the qualitative,” assessment based on “scalable curriculums,” and scholarship . . . that cedes composition teaching to the realm of market algorithms and efficiency imperatives . . . ” (8). This quantification of education is a form of speed up.
I have several concerns with speed up, especially concurrent enrollment. How can a high school teacher, no matter how skilled, take on the role of a college professor? Imagine a small, isolated mountain town where, as I learned a few years ago, there may be only one secondary English teacher who teaches all English, 7-12, oversees the school newspaper and yearbook, directs the plays, and serves as school librarian. She knows all the kids and the kids know her. She has lived in the community for some time, and she and her husband have bought a house, had children, and therefore she also knows the parents and other adults in the town. There is pressure on her to conform to community values and not rock the boat or challenge basic town mores. How can this person offer a college course for these students? Perhaps, in this case, prepared high school students could register for an online college course that at least would have a more diverse group of students in the class and would be taught by a college instructor—but how many high school students are ready for online courses? Many college students are not.
Another problem with speed up is the assumption that one time of life is primarily preparation for the next. If high school is preparation for college, then junior high is preparation for high school, and elementary for junior high; also college is preparation for grad school, and grad school, for a post doc perhaps, and a post doc for a career that probably has stages. So, philosophical question: when are we there? When do we live and enjoy the now? Obviously, I have exaggerated this, but taken to an extreme, education becomes just something to get through, not to be savored. I have met a high school teacher who believed that if even one student needed a review class in college then that meant the teacher had failed. Such teachers beg for a definition or a plan for what “college ready” means or requires them to do, implying that if only college instructors would tell them, they could make all students college ready. These teachers do not live in the present. I would ask secondary teachers, “What constitutes great secondary teaching?” Doing great teaching at the course level is the key, not rushing to prepare for the next level.
In short, high school is for high school and college is for college. I just don’t see how speeding life up helps. Potential students talk about getting all their “basics” done before they come to college, as though first-year writing and other first-year classes are mere impediments to real learning. What is “basic” in life? What are the educational “basics”? Security is basic. Trust is basic. Working toward goals is basic. Reading is challenging work, and engaging in conversation with a writer through the page is basic; that is, thinking is basic. These are basic qualities of an educated person, basic for a life.
Another concern I have is that minimum “adjunct” status is used as the norm for qualifying secondary teachers to teach concurrent enrollment classes. At Boise State University where I teach that means “a master’s degree in the subject area of the course” (Mongeau). There is also a professional organization for accrediting adjunct status for high school teachers in all subjects: the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP). I wonder what accrediting bodies in each discipline would say about this accrediting body. In addition, there are recent incentives for secondary teachers to attain adjunct college status, including programs at Purdue and in Montana and Wyoming (Mobley). And high school teachers teaching dual enrollment are paid well below what even exploited contingent faculty earn: At my institution, high school concurrent enrollment teachers receive “an average stipend of about $800 a year for their extra time spent doing administrative tasks and attending the required professional development” (Mongeau). Contingent faculty are paid over $3,000 for a three-credit course (over $1,000 a credit hour), and beginning full-time lecturers earn $39,400 per year with benefits (Heil).
The problem of motivating students to attend college, is, in my view, intimately related to wages and the health of the economy; in 2016, Idaho was one of five states “with the highest percentages of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage” (“Minimum Wage Workers in Idaho”). Many students see little value in higher education, especially in a low wage state. In a 2016 survey study, University of Idaho researchers focused on graduating seniors with follow-up four months later. One key finding: “One-third of respondents were not fully convinced that more education would help them financially. Idaho’s average wage per job is among the lowest in the nation. Over time, the average wage gap between Idaho and the rest of the nation is increasing” (Hensheid and McHugh, “Life After”). A respondent stated: “Life is hard. I am going right into work but without scholarships or any form of transportation I’m stuck in the rut of my life working to survive, saving lil’ by lil’ hoping to get an education and reach my dreams” (Hensheid and McHugh, “Life Choices”). A couple years ago, reporter Daniel Walters, in a fascinating newspaper piece, offered comprehensive reporting on why Idaho students do not go to college, noting Idaho’s isolated geography, attitude of self-reliance, dwindling number of good paying jobs even with technical skills, and low national ratings of public schools.
In an interview with the 60X20 task force co-chairs Linda Clark and Lokken, three key points emerged: “Idaho needs to do a better job of matching degrees to workforce needs. Many Idahoans still don’t see the value in getting an education beyond high school. A statewide information campaign may be necessary to drive home the importance of post-secondary education” (Roberts).
All of this begs the question of what a quality education is—at any level. We need to focus on great secondary English teaching and great first-year college writing and how both buttress a serious education.
Adler-Kassner, Linda. “The Companies We Keep Or the Companies We Would Like to Try to Keep: Strategies and Tactics in Challenging Times.” WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 36, no. 1, Fall/Winter 2012, pp. 119-140.
Advanced Opportunities Brochure – Idaho State Department of Education. Accessed 25 July 2017.
ALP: Accelerated Learning Program. The Community College of Baltimore County. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Beach, Holly. “An AA Degree and Head Start on College.” Idaho-Press Tribune. 10 May 2017. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Complete College America.“About.”. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Complete College Idaho Plan.. Accessed 25 July 2017.|
Dyer, Darlene. “Go-On Issues for Idaho.” NCTE Policy Report: Idaho, 30 Nov. 2016. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Heil, Mark. “FY ’18 Change in Employee Compensation.” Received by Karen Uehling, 8 June 2017.
—. “Life Choices of High School Seniors.” Idaho at a Glance, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan. 2017. University of Idaho, McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Accessed 25 July 2017.
“Idaho Dual Credit Program – Idaho State Board of Education” [brochure, PDF]. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Mobley, Kimberly. “Overcoming the Shortage of Qualified Instructors to Teach Concurrent Enrollment Classes.” National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. 17 Dec. 2014. Accessed 25 July 2017.
National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP). [website]. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Scott, Tony, and Nancy Welch. “Introduction.” Composition in the Age of Austerity, edited by Scott and Welch, Univ. Press of CO, 2016, pp. 3-17, DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c000.
Karen Uehling is Professor of English at Boise State University, where she has taught since 1981. A founding Chair of the Council on Basic Writing (CBW) and frequent CCCC presenter, she has published histories of CBW and basic writing at her institution and articles on adult learners, teaching, and writing. She serves as the NCTE Higher Education Policy Analyst for Idaho and posts reports for the Policy Analysis Initiative.