AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes is worried about the rapid growth of dual enrollment programs in Texas and bases his concern on the fact that many students fail tests for college-readiness.

Paredes outlined his position at a recent hearing of the Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education.

“Dual credit is not going to be the magic bullet in helping us achieve our education goals. We have a very limited pool of college-ready students in our high schools,” Paredes told the committee. “If we don’t make sure these courses are sufficiently rigorous what will inevitably happen is universities will not accept these dual credit courses.”

Dual credit, or dual enrollment, involves students being enrolled in two separate, academically related institutions. Generally, it refers to high school students taking college courses. It is very popular in the Rio Grande Valley with many school districts starting early college high schools and partnering with community colleges. The pioneers were PSJA ISD and South Texas College.

Paredes said there are different ways of deciding if a student is college readiness. By some measures, he said, 90 percent of high school students are deemed college-ready. But if one looks at the ACT assessment only 27 percent of students were ready for college in four key disciplines. “If we look at SAT scores we close to the bottom. That is cause for alarm,” Paredes told the committee.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt

Paredes said data suggests that “there is a limited pool of students who can benefit from appropriately rigorous dual credit courses.”

Paredes then citied what he called another cause for concern. “Forty percent of students who have an ‘A’ average in high school are assigned to developmental education once they enroll in higher education. I think you can conclude that TAKS scores were set too low, and we have to be careful about how we expand dual credit programs. The expansion has been occurring at such an accelerated pace, I think we are getting to the limits of where students are properly prepared to benefit from appropriately rigorous dual credit programs.”

Paredes added: “I worry that if we exempt students from demonstrating college readiness, what is likely to occur, and anybody who has ever taught knows that this is common practice, that if you have 20 students in a class and 18 of them are not ready to do rigorous work, you are going to lower your expectations because you are not going to flunk 18 students, because of all kinds of pressures that I do not need to go into.”

Paredes said he has had education leaders, both in the legislature and in the K thru 12 sector, say to him, well, if the student can take a dual credit course and pass it doesn’t that demonstrate college readiness. “The answer is no. It might indicate that the course has been dumbed down. I do not want to be unnecessarily alarmist. We need to do a longitudinal study of dual credit courses in early college high schools to demonstrate that they are appropriately rigorous and they are, in fact, preparing students to do rigorous college-level work at either our two-year institutions or our four-year institutions.”

Another area of concern, Paredes said, is the quality of instructors teaching dual credit courses. “I worry about the increasing number of high school teachers who are teaching dual credit courses. They are qualified to teach them in terms of their educational credentials but they have never taught in college and they do not know what college courses are like in terms of rigor and expectations,” Paredes said. “I spent a lot of years working with high school teachers when I was an English professor and I can tell you that at least three quarters of the time the teachers were stunned to learn about the expectations that we had for them in the University of California.”

Asked if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has studies on the dual credit concept, Paredes said: “Yes, we do and they are promising. They suggest that dual credit courses are working. It may well be that we have been selecting, or the process has selected out the students that are college-ready and can benefit from these courses. But, as I said, the expansion of dual credit at the rate some people propose or would like to see doesn’t jibe with the data regarding college readiness in Texas.”

Paredes concluded his testimony by saying: “I want the data. It is worrisome to me when I look at the success of dual credit programs and then I look at the objective data on the actual levels of college readiness in Texas.”

Texas state senators give their views

Some senators on the higher education committee expressed support for dual enrollment or dual credit.

“The fact that people are graduating from high school now with an associate’s degree is pretty good integration. That is a great benefit for Texas students as well as Texas parents,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

“I am a dual credit fan,” said state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

“I have been bragging about dual credit expansion,” said state Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

“Dual credit and some kind of career training is not only the wave of the future – it is the future now. It is the big success that we have right now,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. “If this continues you can see students entering with 30 hours of dual credit. These pathways are very important because they already produce a 25 percent increase in low-income student measurements.”

Bettencourt said there has been “exponential growth” in dual credit in one year in Harris County. “You can feel and see the difference dramatically.”

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath responded: “Adding relevance to the high school experience is a deeply important improvement in the public education system. You have to balance the factors of increasing relevance while maintaining rigor. That is more easily said than done.”

Morath said two school districts in Texas – Roscoe in the Panhandle and PSJA in the Rio Grande Valley – have been “very aggressive” in establishing dual credit pathways. “At Roscoe, 90 percent of their high school graduates graduated with both a diploma and an associate’s degree, which is probably the best results in the state of Texas. And that is in a very rural setting, “Morath said. “In PSJA you see a system-wide commitment to dual credit activity that has embedded the local university system within the school system to make it as seamless as it is anywhere in the state and dramatically improved results for kids down on the border.”

To which Sen. Bettencourt said: “This is a win-win-win. I am going to use the third win because it is important for the Texas taxpayers. If these kids can get out of K thru 12 with an associate’s degree or a substantial number of hours towards a four-year BS or BA, it is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. It is a win for the state, it is a win for the students and it is a win for the districts involved as well.”

One state senator to express reservations was Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. “If we are paying millions upon graduation for remedial before they can go into our Higher Ed system, we have got failure. They may have a degree in their hands but we have some failure,” Campbell said.

To which Morath responded: “It is clearly a problem that too many of our students get pushed through the system without adequate academic preparation. I have seen it personally with students I have mentored and it bears out in the data.”

Texas Association of Business viewpoint

Interviewed later by the Rio Grande Guardian, Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said he shares Commissioner Paredes’ concerns about dual credit.

Bill Hammond
Bill Hammond

“The dual credit courses have been expanding enormously. They are now having 9th graders who are eligible for dual credit courses and it is pretty obvious that the rigor is not there. You have kids who are not ready to take college-level courses. You have instructors who are not knowledgeable enough to teach those courses and the combination of those two things is that they take the courses and get a grade but it is not a foundation or a building block towards getting a degree – because they did not pick up the knowledge and skills they need to be successful,” Hammond said.

“We think only about 25 percent of high school graduates are career- or college-ready and we are seeing that in the results. In two-year schools the three-year graduation rate is eight or nine percent. For the four-year schools, if you exclude UT-Austin and College Station (Texas A&M), the graduation rate in six years is only about a little over 50 percent. So, the sad fact is too many kids are getting out of high school and we are allowing them to enter into a community or four-year school and they are simply not ready. They have to take remedial courses.”

Hammond said this state of affairs only hurts the students involved.

“I think it is a false promise and at its heart it is unfair to its students because they are being told they are getting college credit that will count towards their major and the schools are saying no in two ways. One, it does not count towards their major and/or, secondly, the foundation is simply not there, so when they go to take the upper level courses they are not able to be successful. That is unfair to them.”

Hammond said reform is necessary. “Today in Texas we have no measure of career- or college-readiness applied to all students. We have ACT, SAT and TSI but not every student takes any one of those. But, based on the fact that 54 percent of the kids that go to a two-year school have to take remedial and about a quarter of those who go to a four-year school have to take remedial, K-12 is not getting them ready to succeed. So, I share Raymund’s concerns. It is a false promise and at its heart it is unfair.”

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story shows Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes speaking at South Texas College’s 11th Annual Summit for College and Career Readiness, held at the Region 1 Education Service Center in Edinburg on April 4, 2016.