Identifying Best Practices: Part II

Over the past several weeks spent delving into the topic of dual enrollment in Texas, I have made a list of what seems to be working well, what needs to be addressed, and possible solutions for improving the system. One of those solutions is identifying and sharing best practices across the state.

Last week, I told you about OnRamps, a dual enrollment program founded in 2011 and coordinated by UT-Austin, in partnership with the Texas Higher Education Leaders Consortium. There are several aspects of OnRamps that stand out, including the extensive training all of the high school teachers who are teaching OnRamps courses receive, how students complete high school work for their high school teachers and college-level work for the UT Instructor of Record, and how a determination is made at the end of the semester if that student is truly prepared for college level work. Students whose grades (75 percent or higher) on the college-level work indicate they are, indeed, ready, they earn college credit for the work they completed first semester, as well as for their work during the spring semester. This alleviates one of the top concerns I have heard---students who start a dual enrollment course in the fall and earn low/failing grades on their assignments have affected their college GPA, which will go with them when they graduate and go to college.

Now, back to OnRamps. So what happens to students whose work indicates they aren’t quite ready for college-level work at the end of the fall semester?

I asked that question to Julie Schell, director of OnRamps and Strategic Initiatives and a clinical assistant professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership at UT. Those students, Julie told me, will remain in the class “and still have a high-level, rigorous experience, even if they don’t meet the standards for college credit.” It sounds like a win-win for these students.

I also asked Julie what kind of training high school teachers in their program receive after the first year. OnRamps has New Teacher Training and Returning Teacher Training. “The teachers ARE our program,” Julie told me. It’s great to know their training (aka learning) is ongoing.

“So why is the program named OnRamps?” I asked. “Because we accelerate the program so our students will be OnRamp for what’s next,” Julie said.

As I shared with you in an earlier column in this series, when I spoke to Bill Hammond, CEO of Texas Association of Business, one of his greatest concerns about the current state of dual enrollment is the number of credits students earn that do not transfer to the college they choose or apply to their major. I have heard about this problem from numerous parents and counselors, as well. I asked Julie how OnRamps addresses this concern.

“All of our courses meet the Texas Core Curriculum,” Julie told me. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s website, “Every public institution in Texas has a Core, which is designed to provide a solid foundation for your college education and to make transfers between and among Texas institutions of higher education as smooth and seamless as possible.” Because OnRamps’ courses meet this Core Curriculum, their students’ credits will definitely transfer to any public college or university in Texas.

Here is a bit more about OnRamps:

1. They are replicating their program with Texas Tech for the 2016-2017 school year.

2. OnRamps is now conducting professional development for Algebra II teachers, even though this is not an OnRamps course, because of their strong reputation for teacher training.

3. OnRamps served over 3000 students during the 2015-2016 school year.

4. The 84th Legislature provided a state appropriation that reimburses all partnering districts 100 percent of the cost, per student, and teacher-training fees for participating in OnRamps during this biennium. (This is offered statewide for dual enrollment courses.)

5. I asked Julie to offer her solutions to the current concerns regarding dual enrollment. She responded with these solutions:

a. Ensure that courses are high-quality and rigorous, infused with innovative pedagogies.

b. Align all courses with leading research entities.

c. Universities should partner with districts, schools, teachers, and other universities.

d. Identify exemplars (excellent models) of dual enrollment.

 

I have identified the first one---OnRamps.

 

Until next week…

 

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.