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Requirements reflect increased interest in concurrent enrollment

A recent change to requirements for high school teachers teaching College in the Schools courses has Brainerd High School teachers and administrators figuring out how to adapt.

A recent change to requirements for high school teachers teaching College in the Schools courses has Brainerd High School teachers and administrators figuring out how to adapt.

The Higher Learning Commission, a national organization responsible for accrediting colleges and universities, recently announced high school teachers teaching a CIS course will be required to have a master's degree and 18 graduate credits in a given field to teach the course, effective September of 2017.

There are currently 12 teachers at Brainerd High School teaching 11 different CIS courses, principal Andrea Rusk said. Last year, 265 BHS students were involved in a CIS course. Under the new requirements, none of those 12 teachers would qualify to teach a CIS course, she said. Despite that, BHS teachers and administrators aren't panicking or in crisis mode, Rusk said. She's meeting with those teachers on Oct. 22 to see how to proceed with the situation.

"We met with Central Lakes (College) so that there wasn't this panic," Rusk said. "But we also want to be very thoughtful in how we respond, and we are going to take steps to have our staff credentialed."

BHS has always worked with teachers to ensure they were properly credentialed for the CIS courses they were teaching, Rusk said. Three of their courses are offered through a partnership with the University of Minnesota, she said, which carry different credentials than courses through Central Lakes College. The CIS teachers are paired with college instructors who set the course standards and construct the course's syllabus to ensure what is being taught at the high school passes collegiate muster.

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"We've heard about this for a couple years," Rusk said. "But (HLC) came out this past spring very clearly and said, 'We're putting a deadline, and we're giving you two years.'"

BHS will help its teachers find the correct graduate courses they need, Rusk said, to make sure they can teach their CIS course when the time comes. Most teachers have planned to get a master's degree, she said, so the challenge becomes finding places to get 18 graduate credits in a specific field like physics or history.

"Colleges and universities haven't provided a lot of graduate work in a specific content area that is online or flexible to the people that live outside of a college or university town," Rusk said.

To help the teachers with that issue, Rusk said, BHS is helping them find colleges or universities that offer online courses in the field they're looking for.

If CIS courses went away from BHS, Rusk said, students would have to decide if they want to stay in the school and take Advanced Placement courses, or if they want to take off-campus Post-Secondary Enrollment Option courses. Fortunately, students don't have to worry about that, she said.

"We intend, at Brainerd High School, to continue offering College in the Schools courses here," Rusk said. "Our commitment is to keeping as many opportunities on campus as we can."

Brainerd Public Schools interim Superintendent Bob Gross said the CIS program is a "very important program for us," and the district values "the opportunity to offer these programs in the school."

Betsy Picciano, director of secondary relations at CLC, coordinates CIS for the college. She said CLC has worked with BHS since 2007-08 to deliver concurrent enrollment programs to BHS students.

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Area high schools are concerned about the HLC's announcement, Picciano said, but the requirements aren't really new ones. The commission has always had assumed practices for colleges and universities in accrediting states, and "they were assumptions that that's what institutions were utilizing."

Within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the requirement for CIS teachers teaching in liberal arts and sciences was to hold a master's degree in their field, or a master's degree and 16 graduate credits in their field, Picciano said. There were exceptions to that, she said, "and some of those exceptions are now becoming problematic."

The credit requirement changes from 16 to 18 credits, Picciano said, but the issue with HLC's announcement has to do with enforcement. In the past, the requirement was more of a guideline, she said, but now it's going to be enforced.

The commission is taking a harder stance on requirements, Picciano said, partly because concurrent enrollment has exploded in popularity nationwide and in Minnesota. Now, 90 percent of school districts in Minnesota offer some form of concurrent enrollment, she said.

"HLC was worried about the quality of instruction, because it was growing so fast," Picciano said. "Because they have oversight of us, they have to ensure their practices were carried out."

Concurrent enrollment is vital for rural Minnesota, Picciano said, because it gives students who don't live near a college or university the chance to take college-level courses in a convenient setting.

"Nobody wants to take away that opportunity," Picciano said. "Nobody has the intention of eliminating or shutting down any CIS courses or programs."

CLC has long been a partner to regional high schools, Picciano said, by providing the chance for high school students to get college experience. Bringing those students in before they graduate helps them make the transition from high school to college, she said.

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"We know it gets them prepared for eventually leaving the high school campus and coming onto an actual college campus," Picciano said. "It's a good relational experience we have."

Many high school teachers feel the new requirements are a big burden, Picciano said, and colleges understand that. There's "a lot to digest right now," she said, but MnSCU and CLC will work with their partner high schools to "make sure it's not as disruptive, and not as horrible as people think it may be."

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

Related Topics: BRAINERD HIGH SCHOOL
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