Identifying Best Practices

One of about five recurring themes regarding solutions to the current state of dual enrollment is the need for Best Practices, preferably identified/highlighted/shared by the Texas Education Agency.

As I mentioned last week---shortly after this series began, I received an email from Julie Schell, director of OnRamps and strategic initiatives and a clinical assistant professor for the Program in Higher Education Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. (Whew! That is quite a title!) I told you Julie contacted me about the terminology conundrum that is dual enrollment vs. dual credit vs. concurrent enrollment. After we communicated back and forth a couple of times, Julie asked me to check out the OnRamps website and then offered to share more information with me about this UT-affiliated dual enrollment program.

I spent quite a bit of time reading every word on the OnRamps site (onramps.utexas.edu) before speaking to Julie via telephone. I definitely liked a lot of what I read, especially after speaking to Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, Dr. Trinidad Gonzales from South Texas College, a couple of high school counselors, and a number of high school dual enrollment teachers and parents of students who have taken dual enrollment courses. There are definite areas of concern that need to be addressed when it comes to awarding dual enrollment credit, and I feel confident that OnRamps offers a beacon of hope.

OnRamps works like this: High school teachers who have been properly vetted attend a two-week summer professional learning institute where they cover advanced content, implementation of college-aligned pedagogy, and how to use the same digital tools as UT professors. They also attend a one-day workshop in the fall and the spring where they address challenges and opportunities and participate in monthly virtual hangouts. These high school teachers receive over 80 hours of training over the course of the year. This is in addition to the ongoing support from their 1:1 relationship with a UT faculty or instructional staff member (the Instructor of Record for the OnRamps course). One of the things I like most about this is that all of the high school students who take a class with these teachers will benefit from this level of training, not only those students who are earning dual enrollment credit.

The OnRamps courses are rigorous, aligned with leading research entities, and developed by college professors and revised, if needed, by a lead faculty member with a doctorate in the course discipline. OnRamps currently offers seven courses: ELA (two levels), pre-calculus, statistics, computer science, geoscience, and physics.

One aspect of OnRamps I find most innovative is the actual dual enrollment process they have developed, which certainly addresses the legitimate concern about “dual students” negatively impacting their college GPA while still in high school. This is how OnRamps does it:

During the fall semester, OnRamps students are taught by their high school teachers, who have undergone the intensive training at UT (addressed above). These students complete high-school-level assignments in the course, which they turn in to their high school teachers to be graded. At the same time, they complete a series of required assignments provided by their UT Instructor of Record and submit that to this instructor, and it is graded according to college-level standards. Then, at the end of the semester, if the students have earned a grade of 75 percent or higher on these college assignments, only then are they eligible to be dually enrolled in the course for the spring semester and receive college credit for their fall-semester work. During the spring semester, the students continue to complete both high school and college assignments, continuing to submit their high school work to their teacher and their college work to their Instructor of Record. They receive two separate grades for the course—a high school grade and a college grade--which means, of course, that those grades could be different.

Are you wondering what happens to the students who do not earn a 75 percent or higher at the end of the fall semester, what kind of training the high school teachers receive after the first year, how students and their parents can be sure these OnRamps college credits they are earning will actually be accepted by the college or university they decide to attend, and even why this program was named OnRamps? I will answer these questions and more next week as we continue this summer series on dual enrollment.

Until next week……(and in the meantime, Happy 4th of July. Freedom isn’t free. Let us remember the men and women who are serving our country so we can continue living in this great, free nation.)

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and works for a McAllen-based alternative certification program. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.