Thursday, December 11, 2014


Notes from NEASC, Part One

NEASC, the regional accreditor for the New England states, is having its annual conference this week.  I couldn’t make it on Wednesday, but was able to attend on Thursday.  Some highlights for posterity:

Gillian Thorne, Director of Early College Experience at UConn, gave an overview of the concurrent enrollment program there.  Apparently, it involves UConn partnering with several public high schools throughout Connecticut to offer college credit for courses taught in the high schools by high school faculty. The program uses NACEP standards for quality control, and relies on departmental liaisons at the university.  She mentioned that the credits have transferred quite well, even when the students have chosen colleges other than UConn, which was encouraging.  

Concurrent enrollment remains largely a Midwestern phenomenon -- she showed a map of color-coded states that might as well have said “there be dragons” for New England -- but it’s catching on.  She didn’t address peer effects, which was disappointing, but at least there’s a place to start.  I was glad I caught the presentation.

Ed Klotzpier, from the College Board, followed.  Predictably, given his affiliation, he defended some current high-profile tests (SAT, AP), though he conceded during q-and-a that some medical and professional schools don’t like AP credits.  Putting the Thorne and Klotzpier presentations next to each other, it appears that concurrent enrollment credits transfer more easily than AP credits do.  Good to know.

The NEASC conference is unlike many, in that it includes people from community colleges, four-year colleges, and research universities, and it covers both the public and private sectors.  I offer that as context for the next paragraph.

Klotzpier devoted much of his talk to the “undermatching” thesis, and even managed to use multiple pipeline metaphors while doing so.  That is to say, he systematically insulted a significant chunk of his audience, and didn’t even seem aware that he was doing it.  If you cast “attending a community college” as a “tragedy,” then I have no time for you.  

Reflecting on it later, his position was consistent with the interests of his employer.  (To be fair, the same could be said about me.)  If your solution to economic and racial polarization in America is to isolate and pluck the few worthies from low-income areas and send them to selective places, then standardized tests could serve that purpose.  Conversely,if you believe that everyone deserves access to a serious education, then the “isolate and pluck” approach will strike you as offensively classist.  You make the call.

The highlight of the morning, though, was a thought-provoking presentation by Douglas Shaprio, of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.  The Clearinghouse has access to the records of 96 percent of the students at Title IV eligible institutions in the US, including those who transfer across state lines.  (In regions with physically small states, like this one, that matters.)  It’s doing a project tracking student success at four-year colleges, and it’s planning to do a followup project on students at community colleges.

Shapiro pointed out, correctly, that the way that we count students often leads to falsely negative conclusions in the political sphere.  Most of us are familiar with the arguments around transfer students, but Shapiro introduced a methodological adjustment that struck me as brilliant.  Instead of counting students only as either full-time or part-time, he introduced a category called “mixed.”  The way that IPEDS codes students, a student who enters college on a full-time basis is coded as full-time forevermore, even if she downshifts to part-time later.  That means that a student who gets a job after a while and starts taking fewer classes shows up as an institutional failure.  Recoding students like those as “mixed” gives a more accurate picture.  I’m eager to see that new category applied to the community college sector, where the miscounting issues are more acute.

He also shared some worthwhile data nuggets.  In the four-year sector, he found that twenty percent of students who got degrees got them at colleges other than their first.  And the relationship between student age and enrollment status was thought-provoking: apparently, older students do better than younger students among those enrolled part-time, but younger students do better than older students among those enrolled full-time.  It make some intuitive sense, but I had never seen it broken out that way and empirically verified.  Good to know.  And I’m looking forward eagerly to the results of the Clearinghouse study on community colleges.  For those wondering what effect a unit record system might have, it’s a tantalizing glmpse.

Finally, I caught a terrific talk by Scott Jaschik, but I’ll let him convey that.  He has a pretty good platform for that sort of thing…

On to Friday.

From where I sit, I agree that concurrent enrollment simplifies FULL transfer of credit. (You usually get credit for a passing AP score, but it might be elective credit or not what you actually need.) Each college sets the cut score for credit for a particular course. (It can be state-wide for public colleges.) Articulation determines if a college class transfers as the equivalent of another. IME, I've only seen a problem with transfer of an engineering physics class to a school that has a special physics majors class, but that school would not take ANY level AP score for that either.

BTW, I would sometimes describe AP classes as a "tragedy". They are not really college level because a full HS year is not the pacing of a 14+ week semester. A math prof at Johns Hopkins even does a special orientation for students entering calc 3 after taking two years to learn calc 1 and 2 in HS. They are not ready to learn outside the classroom.

It is also tragic to see an proto-engineer with all sorts of gen-ed AP credit but only a semester of calculus which then lies fallow all summer and sometimes in the fall as well if they think they can slack because they are an AP superstar. We've had concurrent enrollment HS students graduate with an AA that includes 4 semesters of calculus and 2 of physics before they get their HS diploma. Try doing that with AP!

BTW, we mostly use our own adjuncts in a HS classroom, but any HS teacher has to meet the MS in the field or equivalent to teach for us. They are "hired" just like adjuncts.
In our state, we have to accept dual enrollment classes, but we can't control their quality. And it is a disaster-- students get the credits, then crash and burn in the next class, while students with AP credit do fine.

If you have robust data to that effect, you should direct a complaint to the accreditation group for that school, particularly if you suspect that they might not have a fully-qualified college instructor teaching in the HS. This is a known problem. My experience is with students taking those classes on our campus from our regular faculty.

Or maybe your calc 3 class isn't as challenging as ours or the one at Johns Hopkins. Just this semester we have seen students in shock at the challenge of taking both a college calculus 3 class and a college physics class at the same time as freshmen with AP credit. It is sometimes too late to recover when they finally discover the need to do homework.
" Apparently, it involves UConn partnering with several public high schools throughout Connecticut to offer college credit for courses taught in the high schools by high school faculty."

I've never understood how high schools with their security/surveillance mentality could claim to teach a college course demanding free inquiry, questioning of authority, wide-ranging imagination.

It doesn't matter whether the high school teachers are qualified on paper. They work in a place where students are constantly being forbidden any idea or expression that might upset parents and school boards or administration, and it is the teachers' job, if they intend to keep that job, to enforce a host of petty regulations.

I argued against concurrent enrollment with cc administrators, explaining that some of the books I had students read would not be acceptable in local high schools and that language I allowed in student writing would be inflammatory in a high school setting--and that, therefore, it was a con saying that my class could be taught in a local high school.

Our dean asked if less controversial books couldn't be assigned and if it was really necessary to allow students to use rough language.

I thought the dean's remarks pretty well proved my point, but, you know, this dean was a pretty rigid order muppet....
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