CBC questions college course option in Richland high schools

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 28, 2013 

Columbia Basin College faculty and administrators are questioning the Richland School District's plan to teach more college-level course in its two high schools.

The district's teachers are excellent and Richland and Hanford high schools produce graduates prepared for higher education, CBC officials said.

However, CBC President Rich Cummins has concerns: "There are a lot of great K-12 teachers, but not a lot of them have master's (degrees) in specific areas besides education. It's not an issue of quality, more concern over the level of preparation for teachers."

The planned courses will be rigorous and prepare students for the rest of their education, said officials with the district and Central Washington University in Ellensburg, which is helping to expand the in-school offerings.

And there's already significant interest in the growing programs.

"We've had some parents call. They sound pretty excited," said Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley.

Richland students already can take some College In High School courses at their school for college credit, or they can be in the Running Start program, where they take courses at CBC to earn associate degrees.

Running Start students, one of the fastest growing groups of students at CBC, pay for their books and other incidentals while the district pays the college for each student who attends classes on its Pasco campus.

But beginning next fall, the district and CWU will work to provide more than 60 college-level courses in the high schools by expanding the College In High School program and adding the newly created Running Start In High School program.

"This is not a new concept," said CWU spokeswoman Linda Schactler, who compared the offerings to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. "In some sense, we're retitling what's already going on."

The courses will be taught by high school teachers approved by the college to be adjunct university faculty. CWU will receive $55 per credit hour for students in the College

In High School courses, while the district will receive additional state dollars for students taking the Running Start in High School classes.

But some CBC faculty said the courses would be diluted from the rigor of typical college courses as high school teachers don't meet the same requirements to teach as professors.

Cummins is still learning about the district's plans and hopes to speak with Superintendent Rick Schulte further about the expanded and new programs, he told the Herald.

Education and higher education are a shifting landscape, he said, and families are looking for new ways to get their kids through school and into a career affordably. However, it's important colleges and universities do what's best for students and not necessarily what will help expand an institution, Cummins said.

"We need to make sure we're thinking about the student and showing them all the options so they can make a choice," he said.

Ideally, high school teachers will have at minimum a master's degree in the subject of a college-level course they teach, district and CWU officials said, but it is not a requirement in all of CWU's academic departments.

"We'll see how many are approved," Baddley said, adding that teachers are already putting together applications to teach the courses.

Some Richland and Hanford high school teachers are already adjunct faculty at Washington State University Tri-Cities and Heritage University, Baddley said. Additionally, many 100- and 200-level college courses that high schools students would be interested in aren't taught by faculty but graduate assistants on university campuses.

CWU has worked with districts on similar programs for 25 years and there are well-developed and established teaching standards to guide curriculum and instruction, Schactler said.

"There is so much precedent for this that this isn't the hardest part (of implementing the programs)," she said.

No one is interested in supplanting other options for high school students who want to get a head start on their college education, district and CWU officials said. Some students, either because of other commitments or not being ready to experience a college campus, need more options than what's currently available.

"We believe providing this experience will be a more comfortable experience for some students," Schactler said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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