Nine out of 10 students taking dual credit courses at Ector County Independent School District are passing the classes that count for high school as well as college credit.
A 90 percent passing rate is an “A” on any report card and is a sign of how successful students are at ECISD, district officials say; though for some in higher education the lack of rigor and preparedness by high school students is closer to failing, than passing.
Local college leaders working with dual credit programs at Odessa College and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin laud the option for students that continues to grow each year. At OC in fact, as high as 25 percent of the student population are actually high school students, said David Bauske the director of CollegeNOW.
“The career and technical side of dual credit is growing in leaps and bounds,” Bauske said.
He said the classes, some of which are taught at the high schools, online or on the respective college campuses, do prepare students for college.
“They’re seeing the rigor and level of effort needed to be successful,” Bauske said.
To parents, the ability to knock out a year or even two of college at a drastically reduced price is the selling point, Bauske said. For an OC dual credit course, it’s about $90 per class or $30 per credit hour.
However once a student steps onto a university campus it’s widespread and permeating,: Students are routinely not prepared for college. It’s a major issue across Texas and on a national level, a college professor at Sam Houston University in Huntsville explained. Recapitulating the issue is what math professor Ken Smith calls “the dark side of dual enrollment.”
The abuse of dual enrollment is rising to an entirely new level and it’s a frequent topic of discussion among college professors, Smith says. For high level math teachers like Smith it’s particularly distressing since students need to understand the material to succeed at the next step.
“A secondary effect, students get cheap methods of supposedly getting credit. It’s a disservice. They’re not learning the material. It comes out of a desire to cheaply claim to give (college) credit,” Smith said.
Dual credit is certainly a cost-saver for parents or students paying their own way. For K.C. Orren, a 2005 Permian graduate, it was a tremendous help to get a head start on community college, while attending Permian. He entered Odessa College with 28 dual credit hours.
Even though he works for Halliburton now, Orren does have his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in music from a small Christian college in Kansas.
Most of the courses Orren took were done online and he said they weren’t any more difficult than college classes, rather more time consuming. Plus, he had a lot going on in high school with football and choir commitments.
“It’s almost impossible to fail in high school. In college, it’s not like that. It’s more difficult to study. In high school you have a study guide for everything,” Orren said.
Orren said the courses definitely prepared him for college if even just for the routine of it. “It was a great transition into what college is going to be like,” he said. “In high school will say ‘look I’ll let this go.’ But when you get to college, teacher is going to fail you. Be prepared for stepping into that,” he said.
“If you want a transition without a slap in the face. It gets you ahead,” Orren said.
At ECISD, 1,108 students were enrolled in dual credit courses in 2012-13 among about 4,500 high school students. The completion rate for dual credit courses is 90 percent, with 998 completing the requirements last school year, according to ECISD officials.
With her senior year ahead of her, Nicole Richards of Permian, prefers the face-to-face classes over online dual credit options, but she wants to get ahead on college hours.
“It’s experience teachers are looking for once you get out of high school,” Richards said, who has aspirations of missionary work. The online course are “pretty difficult” Richards said and students know the advantages of taking dual credit over Advanced Placement courses, which require a student to pass a test to receive college credit. Taking AP seems pointless if dual credit is a lock, she said.
In 2012-13, ECISD had 784 students enrolled in AP courses up from the previous year of 689. To Smith, one advantage of AP is the ability to determine if a student deserves the credit through its independent testing system. Students face the uncertainty of not passing the course and thus not receiving any credit at all.
“Now public schools, they can promise (students) can get college credit,” Smith said.
Another local student who split her time between Odessa and Permian high schools, Nicole Davidson, now 20 , will graduate the University of Texas at age 21 thanks to getting ahead with dual credit hours.
“It tried to knock out an entire year with about 37 hours,” she said.
Most classes that are not in the career/technical field (medical terminology, fire academy or welding as examples) are entry-level courses in English, history, government, sociology and math.
Davidson said completing that many courses while enrolled in high school (and completing the high school course simultaneously) “was awesome. Now I can graduate a year earlier and save thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Not that it was all roses, though. At UT, Davidson had to pick her major quicker and at a younger age because she entered her four-year degree as a sophomore. She said the dual credit online course may have hurt her in writing, because it was hard to get feedback over the computer.
“The classes are more ‘high-schoolish’ than college-based in my opinion,” she said, but it’s a good medium between high school and college.
Omega Loera, the Advanced Academics Director at ECISD, said students are vetted to ensure they can keep up with the dual credit courses.
“High school students have unique learning styles and developmental needs and are sometimes better served by those who know and understand them,” Loera said.
The teachers are at the master level who stick to the college syllabi and held to the same standards by the higher education board.
Smith said he’s seen first-hand issues with academic maturity. Professors are under the perception that the students have two years of college and are ready for the higher-level thinking and work.
“At some stage what are we calling college anymore? Why is there high school? Physically why do we need high school anymore?” Smith said.
Smith isn’t discouraging high-achievers to take hold of opportunities for college courses; his own children have taken college courses while in high school. “If a student, at the age of 13, is capable of doing that, then give them the opportunity,” he said.
NEW THIS FALL FOR DUAL CREDIT
Odessa College will offer a track for students to receive their licensed vocational nurse (LVN) training, as well as a new class in basic electronics that will give students the foundation to become an electrician or other similar career paths that are in high demand in the oilfield.
Bauske pointed out that the high school dual credit students are afforded the same opportunities as OC students and are able to use the sports center, Student Success Center and other benefits.
At OC, 1,100 students in the Permian Basin area taking CollegeNow classes through the junior college. Sixty percent of the 1,100 students attend ECISD, with the remaining 40 percent taking courses primarily online because of their proximity from OC’s campus.
As it stands, students at Permian and Odessa high schools, as well as New Tech Odessa do have many options for dual credit courses. In fact, for humanities and English courses there’s only a handful classes that cannot be counted toward college credit. A student in ECISD could graduate high school with enough credits to also earn their associate’s degree or clear their first year of college undergrad requirements.
“We do have a number of math courses, but what we found in fresh/sophomore students they’ve not had had enough in the math sequence to test into those classes,” Bauske said.
For the first time this fall, dual credit is opening up to junior high students. The newest class with UTPB is opening up to ninth-graders (“Jazz, pop, rock music appreciation”). Students must have scored a level III on the eighth-grade STAAR reading or met the ReadiStep College Readiness standards and must take and pass the Compass exam that shows a student can meet academic requirements at the higher education level, Loera said.
All of the UTPB dual credit option have been approved by the Texas Education Agency and are reviewed to ensure they align with the state curriculum requirements, the TEKS and address every performance indicator for the subject area, Rey Lascano said, the director of continuing education at UTPB.
>> Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.