By MATTHEW LeBLANC
Months after an accreditation agency said it would provide a reprieve to Indiana schools worried a looming deadline for new requirements for teachers of dual credit courses would hinder efforts to offer college credit to high school students, little has changed.
The Higher Learning Commission announced in June it would require more stringent qualifications for dual credit teachers by September 2017. The move led to outcry among school administrators, teachers and state officials who said the new rules would disqualify most instructors of dual credit courses in Indiana.
Responding to criticism, the HLC — a Chicago-based group that grants accreditation to more than 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states, including Indiana — invited dual credit-granting institutions in November to seek an extension of the deadline for up to five years. At the time, HLC officials said details about the application process would be released “early next year.”
Now, nearly a month into 2016, no new information has been provided, even as the state and school districts work to try to find ways to ensure teachers are qualified to teach dual credit courses.
Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said her agency is working with colleges around the state to gather input on how to get teachers credentialed. Information about a possible extension of the new rules to 2022 would be helpful sooner rather than later, she said.
The state CHE is separate from HLC, which is a private entity. The CHE coordinates the state’s postsecondary education system.
“As of yet, there’s been no official guidance on the application process from the HLC,” Wilson said. “The next meeting of the dual credit advisory council is Jan. 27, and it would be great to have more information from the HLC before then.”
That is unlikely, however.
John Hausaman, a spokesman for HLC, said in an e-mail the release of information on extension applications is at least another month away.
“I’d expect details by early March,” he said.
The HLC’s new rules will require college instructors, including high school dual credit teachers, to have a master’s degree in the subject in which they specialize or a master’s degree in another area and 18 hours of additional college credit in the area they specialize in.
The tougher requirements threaten dual credit programs at high schools around the state, including those in Wells County.
Here, high school principals have estimated dual credit offerings could dwindle to just one or two classes at their respective schools. Dozens of dual credit classes are currently offered at Bluffton, Norwell and Southern Wells high schools.
State Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, has filed a bill seeking the lessen the burden on teachers who might have to return to college for more credits to do their jobs.
Her bill calls for state colleges to waive tuition for dual credit teachers based on the number of classes they teach. For example, an instructor teaching a dual credit math class would be eligible for one class — typically worth three credits — at a state college.
Tuition waivers would begin after June 30, according to the bill, which was referred last week to the House Education Committee. The proposal would cost colleges in the state a combined $2.9 million, according to a fiscal analysis attached to the bill.
“I was trying to find a way to allow us to comply (with the new rules) while, at the same time, not financially burdening our teachers,” said McNamara, the director of Early College High School in Evansville. “It just makes sense to me.”