U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Teaching Dual Credit U.S. History Courses: A Detour

In my last post, I promised to conclude the saga of my Great American Road Trip by explaining how I’m incorporating “what I did this summer” into how I teach this fall.

But no Great American Road Trip would be complete without a detour. So I’m taking a detour today to address a topic that is currently the subject of much discussion in the online forums of the American Historical Association: dual credit (or dual enrollment) courses. That is, courses offered at high schools for which students receive college credit.

The conversation in the AHA Members’ Forum is unfolding in response to a series of articles on the topic of “Assessing Dual Enrollment,” published in the September 2015 number of Perspectives on History. You can read those articles by following the links here. If you want to read the entire discussion on the AHA Members’ Forum, you will need to join the AHA – something I’d encourage all historians to do anyhow.

But for those of our readers who are not members of the AHA, or who are members but who (perhaps wisely) do not receive a daily email digest of the online discussion threads, I thought I would post here at USIH my own contribution to that conversation. Where I have added a word or sentence for clarification to what I originally posted at the AHA forum, I have indicated that below with italics.

I am an ABD PhD student, a U.S. intellectual and cultural historian, and a community college instructor.

I teach two sections of U.S. history FOR the local community college (my employer) AT a local high school. So, I teach dual credit courses.

These are not high school courses for which students receive college credit. These are college courses which also count towards the students’ high school U.S. History requirement (their junior year of high school here in TX).

Students do not enroll in these courses simply by signing up through their high school.  After getting the high school counselor’s permission to enroll in the class, students must go to the community college, take the college placement tests for all subjects, and test as college-ready for writing, math, etc.  In other words, they must meet the same minimal academic qualifications that college-age students do in order to enroll in a college course.

Students register for the dual credit classes through the community college, pay the tuition (very modest, certainly, because community colleges are *supposed* to be affordable), are responsible for purchasing their own textbooks, supplies, etc.

Who teaches dual credit U.S. history?  At my community college, almost all the full-time history faculty teach at least one section of U.S. history every year (both semesters) at one or another of the high schools in the county that has a dual-credit agreement with the college.  But my impression is that most of the dual credit courses are taught by adjuncts.

I am an adjunct. Like most adjuncts and, I presume, like all community-college instructors, whether they are full-time professors or part-time adjuncts, I don’t have a T.A. to do my grading for me.  Nevertheless, I make sure that writing is a major component of student work and student grades, on separate writing assignments and as part of each test.  The separate writing assignments all involve a close reading/interpretation of primary sources I have previously assigned and that we have discussed in class.  As far as tests go, in addition to an essay question, each test has a section of true/false questions and a section of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions.  (I know, I know — the horror!)  And all of us, adjuncts and full-time faculty alike, submit our syllabi to the department chair for review before the semester begins. And as far as additional quality control goes, all adjuncts, including all dual-credit instructors, are observed during classroom teaching, at first once per semester and then (after a certain number of semesters of satisfactory observations, I believe) once per year.

I can certainly understand the deep concern of historians who are worried that “dual credit” or “dual enrollment” means that people are calling something a college course or college work when it really isn’t.  Apparently that happens in some places.  But, at least in my neck of the woods, that’s not what dual credit means.  Dual credit means that some of the same people teaching the introductory survey classes at two-year and four-year colleges and universities — adjuncts — are teaching those same courses in the local high schools as well.  And for a lot of us, myself included, it’s the best job we’ll ever find in academe.  I realize that community college doesn’t count as “academe” for many professors, but – newsflash – that’s where a lot of your PhD students (or, at least, the very lucky ones who land a job in the field at all) will wind up.

So maybe the AHA should take a position stipulating that colleges and universities should not accept dual credit/dual enrollment transfer units unless those classes have been taught by local college instructors who meet the basic accreditation criteria for teaching transferrable coursework: an advanced degree, 18 hours in the discipline, etc.  As we know all too well, there’s a large pool of under-employed, highly qualified people who could meet those standards.

So that’s my contribution, such as it is, to the AHA members’ conversation on dual credit courses.

I would only add here that I would be very happy to “wind up” at a community college, and I suspect that is also true for many PhD students, and not just because community college is “the best you can do” in this job market. If teaching is something you enjoy and are reasonably good at, a community college gig can be wonderful – especially if you care about making sure that working-class, first-generation, immigrant, minority, or otherwise disadvantaged or under-served students have the opportunity to acquire a first-rate college education.

What imperils that goal of a first-rate college education for all students is not the setting in which that education takes place, but the precarious employment conditions of most college instructors. The major professional organizations of academe – the AHA, the MLA, the ASA, and so forth — and their members at large, on the ground, at every institution where those members are employed, must make the case that America’s college students need and deserve to be taught by professors who will be paid a living wage so that they can devote themselves to providing that first-rate education.

4 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Since writing this post, I have learned that at my community college, roughly half of the dual-credit history courses taught in the high schools have been taught by full-timers. The other half have been taught by adjuncts. I don’t know how that percentage stacks up with other disciplines — dual credit courses, taught by college instructors at high school campuses, are also offered in freshman composition, in U.S. government, and in economics.

    But finding out that a large percentage of the dual credit history classes offered by my CC campus are taught by full-time CC professors just highlights my frustration with the AHA discussion about dual credit. The intro to the Perspectives forum defines a dual credit course as a “high school course for which a student earns both high school and college credit” — implying, ISTM, that these classes are taught by high school teachers. Nowhere in the AHA definitions is there a consideration of how dual credit (or dual enrollment) actually works in, oh, say, the various community college districts in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, which together serve several hundred thousand local students.

    If you define dual credit/dual enrollment in such a way as to exclude how it actually works in one of the major population centers of the country (and, I suspect, how it actually works in lots of other areas as well), then you can portray it as a problematic development: departments at universities are “losing” enrollment numbers in the surveys and intro courses to “high school teachers” who don’t offer college-level instruction.

    But that’s not how it works; that’s not how any of this works. Instead, dual credit courses are being taught by graduates of advanced degree programs from those same university departments that are now worried about the potential for declining enrollment numbers in the general ed courses thanks to the rise of dual credit instruction. But acknowledging how and by whom many of these programs are actually staffed would make it awfully awkward to complain about the quality of instruction.

  2. Thanks for posting. I know our local area handles dual credit (as opposed to AP credits) by giving students the opportunity to physically attend community college courses during the school day. Such arrangements seem to becoming more common, and as your post suggests, should be considered with an eye for valuing the academic rigor of collegiate studies rather than as merely high school classes by another name.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Ethan. As Allison Miller (Perspectives editor) pointed out on Twitter, dual credit/dual enrollment very much depends on local/state laws, regs, etc. I do think we need to link rise of dual credit as an increasingly attractive option for high schoolers with rising college costs and the casualization of academic labor, especially the shifting of more and more undergrad instruction to lecturers/adjuncts. It surely varies from university to university, but if most sections of the survey courses (or, for that matter, freshman writing) are taught by adjuncts or lecturers, rather than tenured / tenure-track professors, it’s hard to justify — at least in pedagogical terms — why college students ought to take (and pay for) those courses through the university, rather than through a much more affordable community college system. Also, there’s the question of class size — at the campus where I teach, the classroom can only hold 30 students, so that’s the enrollment limit for my survey sections. That’s a much smaller class size than students would encounter, for example, at the university where I am a grad student and where I have also taught the survey.

  4. I have a very similar experience. I’m a M.A History graduate and I am doing my first teaching gig teaching two dual-credit US History courses at my local community college as well. And since I’m a UNT graduate, and you’re at UTD, we may have the same employer! Technically I’m on the books for two (NCTC and TCC), but working for the former now this semester. Next semester? Who knows. Isn’t adjuncting *fun*?

    In any case, my particular employers are sure just to hire those with M.A.’s in the subject at hand. At least that was the vibe I got from the interviews I did. But if dual-credit courses are being taught by those without some standards, that is indeed worrying.

    I will say that how each school district approaches dual-credit is also a major component in the dual-credit morass. Both my classes are in two separate communities, one in affluent Collin County, and the other one in a small town northwest of Denton. Their approaches are the same given that they are dependent on NCTC for dual-credit instructors. And I imagine it’s the same as yours.

    In contrast, my old school district of Grand Prairie ISD is taking dual-credit in the opposite direction. I was interviewing to take a job at my old high school (which, alas, I did not get) that had a dual-credit component as well. The difference was that the teacher was not an employee of a community college (DCCCD), but of the school district itself, and paid like it as well. That teacher would teach World Geography in the 9th grade, then teach the same students World History in the 10th grade, US History and US government later on. Those last three courses would be dual-credit, but the class would be taught by a district teacher.

    So there you have a situation of a fully paid teacher doing the same job as an adjunct like myself, but under wildly different conditions and pay.

    I’m not sure where we go from here insofar that there seems to be very little institutional control over how each community college and each school district decides to implement dual-credit courses. And the fact of the matter is that the major public universities in Texas (UT-System, Texas A&M-System, Houston, UNT, Tech) are all required by state law to accept any community college credit for transfer. As far as Texas is concerned, I doubt there will be traction unless those schools (name Texas and A&M) force the legislature to do something about this situation. But my hunch is that’s the way they want it as those dual-credit courses lessens the need for their own Freshman-level courses across all subjects, not just history.

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