Meeting the criteria to teach for one of Wyoming’s seven community colleges just got harder, putting classes in jeopardy, particularly college-level courses taught by high school teachers.
A 2010 Wyoming law requires districts make at least 12 credit hours of college course work available to their students. Many high school students take advantage of the opportunity, graduating with some college, or even a full associated degree.
One way this is achieved is through concurrent courses — classes taught in the high school by high school teachers who are considered adjunct faculty of the college. Students close enough to commute can also take dual courses, taught at the college.
But new standards announced last year by the Higher Learning Commission, the accreditation institute for Wyoming community colleges, require that teachers have a master’s degree or 18 graduate-level credit hours in the discipline they are teaching. Wyoming and 18 other states were affected by the change.
The problem stems from the fact that many high school teachers of concurrent courses have a master’s degree in education or instruction, not in a specific discipline like economics, said Joe McCann, programs team manager for the Wyoming Community College Commission and a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission.
The colleges are supposed to meet the new standards by fall 2017, McCann said.
Casper College in Natrona County has about 700 high school students taking either dual or concurrent courses every semester, said Jeana Lam-Pickett, BOCES program specialist for the college.
It is likely that some high school teachers won’t meet the new criteria, and the courses they were teaching will no longer be offered, said Shawn Powell, interim vice president of academic affairs at Casper College.
However, the college is not in panic mode. Administrators have begun a review of the faculty this week, he said. They will meet in March with Casper high school principals to discuss the future of concurrent classes.
The college is developing individualized plans for each of its faculty members who do not meet the new criteria. And high school teachers can also work towards meeting the new standards before the deadline.
Wyoming community college professors have the option to take up to six credit hours a semester from the University of Wyoming free of charge, he said. There is also grant money available in Natrona County for a graduate stipend from the BOCES Program, he said.
But for colleges in less-populated areas, the new rules pose a challenge.
Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington serves six rural counties. Though the college is the state’s smallest, it collaborates with 10 school districts on concurrent or dual courses, said Richard Patterson, the college’s president.
“It’s all over the place,” he said. “It’s a significant number of students, the whole eastern side of the state. It’s impacting us, or has the potential to impact students, we just don’t know the extent of it.”
Attracting qualified faculty is already difficult in rural areas, he said.
“Our goal is to come into full compliance, but that is going to take some time and some money,” he said. “I guess we have a little time, but we don’t have a lot of money.”
Some colleges are less worried by the change than others.
For Powell, the new standard needed to be implemented, and it’s a good opportunity for Casper College. But Patterson considers the standards too strict.
“We’re not saying that we want substandard teachers, but it could be a little better thought out, maybe not so rigid an interpretation,” he said. “I think it’s especially challenging for us in the small rural areas to try and meet that.”
For the average high schooler, the change may mean greater reliance on virtual or online courses to obtain college credits, McCann said.
“Technically, all of the school districts are meeting the 12 credit hours (required by law), because the community colleges have more than 12 hours of course work available from distance education, he said. “But not all learners learn well that way.”