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.