Tuesday, January 31, 2012

College in High Schools

This one is really looking for advice from those among my wise and worldly readers who’ve found reasonably elegant ways to handle a particular situation.

Like many community colleges, mine offers some credit-bearing courses onsite in some local high schools that are just far enough way that it would be difficult for the students to commute.  In some cases, we’re just renting space in the high school and teaching at night.  Those cases are relatively straightforward; we pay a room fee and otherwise do what we would normally do.

But sometimes the school district wants a 100-level class offered to its students, on its premises, during its normal school day.  The logic, which makes sense to me, is that rather than simulating college with an AP or IB class, why not just teach the real thing?  Transcripted credits often do better in transfer than do, say, AP scores, which many colleges accept for placement but not credit.  Even better, when they bring in a real college professor, they bring in college level expectations for the students.  And the choices tend to be greater, since we offer classes in subjects for which AP tests don’t exist (as far as I know).

We’ve run into some logistical issues, though, and this is where I’m hoping some folks have found elegant solutions.

We knew, going in, that the semesters didn’t align cleanly.  (For example, our classes end in mid-May, but theirs run well into June.)  That’s an issue, but hardly a deal-breaker.  High schools also generally prefer to run classes five days a week in bite-size chunks of time; again, not our preferred method -- especially from a staffing perspective -- but not a surprise, either.

Textbooks take some diplomacy.  Students (and parents) in high school are accustomed to getting their books for free.  Colleges are accustomed to referring students to bookstores to buy their own.  When you’re running a college course in a high school, you need to address the book purchasing issue upfront.  Will the district pay, or will the students?  Do they have to go somewhere, will they be provided in class, or can they order online?

What we didn’t anticipate as much as we should have was the issue of placement tests.  Many of our 100-level courses require eligibility for English 101 -- that is to say, the ability to place out of developmental English.  A disturbing number of the high school seniors who are motivated enough to sign up for college courses don’t clear that hurdle.  I say “surprising” in part because of the merits, but in part because of the timing; if the prospective students don’t get their results until shortly before the course begins, and find themselves academically ineligible, then we can find ourselves in the awkward spot of having too few students to run the class.

I’ve floated the idea of just setting aside some seats in some online sections of classes we’re running anyway.  That way, I thought, we’d get around both the ‘travel’ issue and the minimum size issue.  If, say, six students out of twenty-five in a given Intro to Psych class are high school seniors, the class can run just fine.  I’d even argue that they’re getting a more authentic college experience, to the extent that their classmates are primarily 18 and older.

But that doesn’t always meet the needs of the high schools.  For reasons of their own, they need to have students in prescribed places at prescribed times, with someone who is paid to teach/supervise them.  Turning students loose for a while, with the expectation that they’ll eventually find their way to the course’s site, doesn’t meet the institution’s needs.

Finally, there’s the awkward fact that when high schools close, they close.  Colleges typically have admissions staff, registration staff, and the like available for probably fifty weeks a year.  That means that there’s nothing unusual about, say, administering placement tests in July and signing students up for classes in August.  That’s just not the case in many high schools, so even if we can align (or get around the non-alignment of) teaching schedules, all the support services frequently crash into each other.

I’m wondering if any of my wise and worldly readers have seen this kind of arrangement -- a college teaching college classes in a high school -- done smoothly.  What’s the trick?  Is there something we’re missing?