Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Dual Credit Dilemma

I attended high school in the 1970s.  Yes, ancient history for a high school student today.  It was a time before standards and standardized testing.  It was during an era where the philosophy of education including the exploration of many diverse and varied subjects, including subjects within subjects. You might remember them as "electives". The last half of my senior year I had earned enough credits that allowed me to have completed my day by noon.  However, I had to either take electives or work in order to comply with graduation requirements.  I opted to work.  I also played softball so I was still very much connected to high school.  I would have been the perfect candidate to take college course had such an opportunity existed.  

Dual credit course have become a way of life for students in New Mexico.  A dual credit course is a course that satisfies both high school and college requirements.  These courses are often identified in agreements between the college and the high school and the terms of participation are spelled out.  New Mexico was the first state that required high school students to take either an AP Course, an on-line course or a dual credit course to satisfy high school graduation requirements.  In theory, exposing high school students to college courses may help them realize that they can be successful in college.  The hopeful result is that more students will go to college because they have been exposed to college and know they can be successful.  

Presently a debate is taking place in New Mexico and through out the United States about the success of dual credit courses.  I suspect the answer is really dependent upon the definition of success.  The purpose of this post is not the debate the definition of success nor share the data from my college around the metrics of dual credit courses as we track them.  The purpose of this post is to raise another question.  Are we unintentionally robbing our children of their childhood?  

I am not the first person to have raised this question.  Dr. David Elkind in his landmark book, The Hurried Child raised just such a question.  Dr. Elkind drew attention to the dangers of exposing children to overwhelming pressures, leading to a wide range of childhood and teenage crises. Dr. Elkind demonstrated that blurring the boundaries between age appropriate expectations and adult expectations too soon forces kids the grow up too fast.  Dual Credit has the potential to become another initiative that forces kids to grow up too fast.  

I am not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.  I think dual credit courses can provide wonderful opportunities for high school students to explore the rigorous of college while satisfying both high school and college requirements.  Allowing high school students to take the "right" dual credit courses can provide them with a very strong foundation in general education that can be a tremendous asset when they do matriculate to college after their high school graduation.  In some instances, dual credit courses that begin to move high school students toward a business or industry recognized certificate can also shorten their time between graduating high school and moving into a meaningful job or career.  

However, some high school students may not be ready for the pressures of a college course or the content of and exposure to topics and issues that some college courses or programs include.  Health related courses and careers may be one such area.  Certainly, health related careers are very attractive to the parents of high school students.  In some cases high school students know they want to pursue a health related career.  Health care employers often include very specific criteria for employment in addition to the necessary certification.  One criteria often includes age.  

Consequently, I think one of the discussions missing from the dual credit initiative is a deep discussion about readiness and whether or not certain courses and programs of study are appropriate for high school students.  Additionally, I have yet to find longitudinal research pertaining to the career success of high school students who took dual credit courses in a career path, then entered that career upon completion of the college requirements.  I think it will be important for us in the future to engage in longitudinal research that follows these high school students who began their college experience early to examine the long term effects.  I'm not ready to say all dual credit is good or all dual credit is bad; however, I do believe we need to continue to raise questions and explore the data to determine if the dual credit initiative is just another one of the activities that Dr. Elkind warned us about.  

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