Doctoral student lands internship with Higher Learning Commission

February 9, 2012

David Seiler has the opportunity to research a controversial topic that could affect the amount of students who attend college and complete their degrees in four years or less.

The Higher Learning Commission selected Seiler, a second-year doctoral student in Indiana State University's educational leadership program, to examine dual credit courses and programs.

"The idea of dual credit is extremely appealing, but there has not been a lot of research on it," Seiler said. "It is hugely popular across the country but there is just not a lot of hard data to say whether or not it is effective and that is what I will be looking at."
High schools across the nation offer students the opportunity to take classes for credit towards both a high school diploma and a college degree. The Higher Learning Commission created this internship to research the range and quality of such programs.
Dual credit has developed into a controversial topic because of concerns regarding quality control, but the classes can be an enormous cost and time saving opportunity to a student, said Josh Powers, professor of higher education leadership and special assistant to the provost for academic initiatives.

"One of the biggest challenges we have right now in the United States is graduating students from college," Powers said. "This kind of work is directly related to that."

Seiler and Powers agree that some of the problems arise from whether high school teachers are equipped to teach college-level courses and if dual credit programs cost or save money.

The differences include whether a high school teacher teaches the class or the students take the class on the college campus.
In Illinois, where Seiler works, it is more common for the classes to be taught by high school teachers. In order for high school instructors to be qualified to teach a college course they have to have a master's degree.

Due to the amount of debate surrounding the issue, Seiler became interested in the topic and conducted some research on his own before being selected as an intern with the Higher Learning Commission.

Schools offer dual credit differently and some do not offer it at all, Seiler said.

Instructors in the higher education leadership program knew of Seiler's interest in dual credit and Powers informed him about the internship opportunity.

"What David is doing is significant and he brings the field experience," Powers said. "This is unique, not many students get this kind of opportunity."

Seiler's field experience comes from his position as a history instructor at Lake Land Community College.

Dual credit courses are accepted by Lakeland and Indiana State, both of the colleges that Seiler is currently associated with, but it is not as readily accepted at other institutions.

When students attempt to transfer dual credit courses to four-year institutions the credit is sometimes not accepted. However, if a student receives credit for those courses towards the completion of an associate's degree then a four-year institution would acknowledge that degree once it is earned, Seiler said.

Originally the Higher Learning Commission had planned for the internship to be focused on dual credit programs among member institutions but interest quickly grew. The project received national attention from other accrediting agencies and the Lumina Foundation, which is funded by the Gates Foundation, Seiler said.

Due to the expansion of the scope of this project, Seiler was selected as one of three interns to conduct research on the topic. The three interns met for the first time in January to begin research discussions, Seiler said.

"Hopefully as we dig into this we are going to find that other people have been looking into this research and maybe it is just a matter of compiling it," Seiler said.

High schools implement different dual credit programs just as colleges accept the credit in different ways, Seiler said. This can lead to problems but Seiler does not foresee the creation of a universal dual credit model as an outcome of the internship.

"Knowledge takes care of a lot of things," Seiler said. "If you have the information and then disseminate the information you can let people make their own decisions."

Writer: Alexa Larkin, Indiana State University, media relations assistant, at 812-237-3773.