Thanks to a plan previously in the works and spurred last year by a legislative mandate, Northwest College now accepts 54 credits through concurrent enrollment for specific advanced courses at high schools in the NWC service area, which consists of Park, Big Horn and Washakie counties. That’s up from almost no concurrent enrollment credits at the college just three years ago.
Last year, the Wyoming Legislature passed Senate File 39, which, among other things, requires community colleges in the state to provide high school students an opportunity to earn at least 12 college credits through concurrent enrollment.
While progress is being made toward that goal, perceptions on how it is proceeding vary between officials at Northwest College, area high school administrators and local legislators.
Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, co-chairman of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Education Committee, said he has been frustrated with Northwest’s slow pace of approving concurrent enrollment teachers and classes.
“We did have a meeting last summer with them, and thought we had solved some of those problems. But I still continue to be somewhat perplexed with why they can’t do it in high numbers like with Sheridan and Western Wyoming Community College District.”
Northwest College officials say they want to make sure that any credits students earn through concurrent enrollment provide the quality education they need to succeed in college.
They also want to do the best they can to make sure those credits will transfer to out-of-state colleges and universities. The best way to do that, said Ronda Peer, interim NWC vice president for academic affairs, is to require minimum academic standards for high school teachers who teach concurrent enrollment classes as adjunct NWC faculty members.
“I don’t think parents would be happy with us if we delivered a bunch of classes that wouldn’t transfer to the next college,” she said in Monday’s NWC board meeting. “I don’t think the students would be happy in the long run, if they take a class and they’re not prepared to succeed in the next class.”
During the meeting, Trustee Rick LaPlante said he recently listened to a presentation about the difficulty in getting some colleges and universities to accept concurrent enrollment credits.
“A lot of colleges say if the instructor of your current or dual enrollment course is not a professor, we won’t honor those credits,” he said. “The further you loosen those (requirements), the more likely you might not have credits that will transfer.”
Peer replied, “We no longer have a choice. We have to do this.”
Peer said she has defended concurrent enrollment credits for three students who applied to out-of-state colleges or universities, with varying degrees of success.
“One was a private institution, and they said, ‘We just philosophically don’t take them (concurrent enrollment credits),’” she said.
LaPlante said the information the program provided “makes me think that our model is as close to good as it can be.”
Peer said college instructors generally are required to have one academic degree above the level at which they are teaching. That means instructors of associate degree programs designed for transfer to four-year institutions ideally must have earned at least a master’s degree in their fields.
Instructors of a “terminal” associate degree program — those designed to prepare students for the work force without additional college education — normally must have at least bachelor’s degrees in their fields.
Instructors of career and technical programs must have earned, at the minimum, associate degrees and any applicable certification for those industries or professions.
But, because education requirements are quite different for high school teachers, it often is difficult to find teachers with qualifications that meet NWC adjunct requirements.
To comply with SF 39, the academic vice presidents for Wyoming’s seven community college districts are working to develop consistent requirements to enable more high school teachers to teach concurrent enrollment classes while they work toward the necessary qualifications, Peer said.
A draft copy of that work in progress outlines five possible ways to do that. Of those, Northwest College has chosen a provisional endorsement for teachers of courses for associate degrees designed to transfer to four-year institutions. That provisional endorsement would require teachers to have a bachelor’s degrees with a minimum of 40 undergraduate hours in the field they plan to teach, such as math, English or science. They also must have demonstrated progress toward completing a master’s degree or toward completing 18 graduate hours in the field.
A similar transition plan is available for teachers of career and technical degrees and certificates.
Once accepted through the transition plan, teachers would have three to five years to complete their education requirements.
The method Northwest College uses is one of the more comprehensive of the five options outlined, and anything less would be difficult to defend to other institutions, Peer said, adding she still would do the best she could.
Coe said he is aware that steps are being taken to increase concurrent enrollment opportunities through Northwest College.
“I think she (Peer) has made some progress. I don’t know exactly how much, but I want to get this solved for Northwest kids to have the same opportunity as (other colleges)... It appears that maybe things are starting to work better.”
Powell High School Principal Bill Schwan said he has seen some resistance to concurrent enrollment from the college “in the form of protecting what they have” in the past.
“That’s where Ronda’s come in to smooth that out,” Schwan said. “She’s really improved that relationship... Is it where I’d like it to be? No, but it’s getting there.”
Peer said Cody High School also “is participating, and participating well” in concurrent enrollment. “It was one of the last ones to get going. They had a change in principals, and that probably slowed them down a bit.”
Dual enrollment — taking classes at Northwest College while also attending high school — is another option for high school students to earn college credits, Peer said.
“I think they get a different experience because they’ve changed their environment. They get a new set of classmates and a new instructor,” she said.
Powell High School counselor Jeanie Stukey said dual enrollment gives students exposure to the college campus, and local students are fortunate to have that option.
“It gets kids to go to college that otherwise wouldn’t go,” she said.
However, dual enrollment also creates scheduling challenges. A student may miss two classes at Powell High School to attend one class at Northwest College.
“Concurrent is a better fit,” she said.