Are there right and wrong advanced academic courses to take in high school to prepare for college? More specifically, which college readiness program is more effective for a high school student, dual credit or Advanced Placement (AP). In my district, not unlike many others across the state of Texas, we have been actively striving to expand our college readiness initiatives and programs. Upon reflection, one aspect of these effort poses a dilemma, as defined by Cuban (2001), that many K-12 school systems may face – the need to expand dual credit program; the potential issue of diluting our successful Advanced Placement (AP) program; and a need for more effective academic advisement to properly inform students and parents about the benefits and limitations of both college readiness programs. The positive impacts of AP programming have been well documented in the literature, while the limited research related to dual credit highlights both its benefits and limitations. Although I am aware of the evidence of both AP and dual credit programming fostering college readiness in students, I find myself facing overwhelming pressure from the district administration, parents, and other community stakeholders to place more emphasis on dual credit. In today’s era of accountability and data-driven decision making, I find it extremely ironic that much of the debate among the aforementioned stakeholders regarding dual credit is not based on data. More surprisingly, I am intrigued by the diversity in goals behind the expansion of the dual credit program. In my opinion, there should never be a conflict between the pursuit of a rigorous and expansive AP program and the expansion of a high quality dual credit program because both have the potential to benefit students in preparation of college.
At the heart of the debate are two key factors, a limited perspective on college readiness courses and the need for proper academic advisement. Many in the community view dual credit more from an asset “obtainment” perspective versus a “preparation” perspective. The obtainment perspective could be characterized by a desire to save money, accumulate credits, or gather an early start on a degree or credential. On one hand this view is desirable and beneficial in today’s competitive academic and labor markets, but on the other hand when it is the sole viewpoint, decisions to pursue dual credit could at the expense of a student’s benefit. In fact, it could lead to students taking courses that negatively impact their financial aid eligibility and admission status, and actually prolong their length of time spent in college. The “preparation” view could be characterized by a willingness to take the most rigorous courses for the purpose of providing adequate readiness of college. When this view is the main focus a student could miss opportunities get a leg up on the academic competition. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications the second critical issue in this dual credit debate is the need for more comprehensive post secondary academic advisement. Regardless of the desired advanced academic programming, students and parents need to have the advisement necessary to determine which options best match a student’s post secondary goals.
In light of the challenges my district faces in pursuing more dual credit opportunities, I focused on 3 key attributes of dilemmas as referenced from the works of Cuban (2001), to frame our situation as a dilemma in an effort to determine the best course of action. First, the situation is packed with potential conflicts between the parents’ knowledge of the impact of dual credit, the political pressures on the superintendent, and my personal ethics. The second attribute leading me to view this situation as a dilemma is that it appears to be insoluble and only manageable. There does not appear to be a “right answer” as we are charged to emphasize and expand dual credit programs for reasons other than what is in the best interest of students. Lastly, our situation should be viewed as a dilemma because it involves a competition between the values of the community to save parents money while getting students a head start on college and the values of many educators to make decisions based on evidence, data, and proper academic advisement.