With the help of Education Systems Center, Illinois recently achieved a major milestone in its efforts to expand dual credit access and offerings with the adoption of the Model Partnership Agreement by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). This Agreement guides local partnerships between school districts and community colleges necessary for the successful implementation of quality dual credit courses and related student supports.
The Current Landscape of Dual Credit in Illinois
The benefits of dual credit are well-documented—in comparison to their peers, dual credit students are more likely to earn a high school diploma, enroll in college, hold higher grade point averages, and complete a college degree on time. Therefore, for Illinois to achieve its broader college readiness and degree attainment goals, our State must ensure a dual credit delivery that ensures all students, in every corner of Illinois, have access to robust dual credit opportunities.
In many ways, Illinois has long been a leader in expanding dual credit through a variety of policies and incentives. This expansion has been rapid – in the last five years, enrollment in at least one dual credit course has increased 18% to roughly 60,000 high school students in academic year 2017-18. While all 48 community colleges in Illinois offer dual credit courses, the type and quantity varies widely from college to college. Additionally, colleges across the State differ in how they partner with districts in terms of the processing of course requests, the approval of instructors, and the costs charged to students and families. This patchwork system has led to massive inequities in our State in terms of access to quality dual credit coursework by Illinois high school students. For school districts with a strong dual credit program and community college partnership, more than half of graduating students earn college credit through at least one dual credit course. By contrast, few, if any, graduates leave high school with community college credit on their transcript where districts have inadequate partnerships.
Collaboration in Service of Student Success: The Model Partnership Agreement
As described above, the partnership challenges for high school districts and community colleges have impacted their ability to deliver quality dual credit at scale. In 2018, the Illinois General Assembly enacted Public Act 100-1049 (SB 2838; the Dual Credit Quality Act), which helps address the inconsistencies in dual credit opportunities in Illinois. To address the partnership challenge, a key provision in the new law requires a community college district, upon the request of a school district within its jurisdiction, to enter into a partnership agreement with the district to offer dual credit coursework. However, if the school district and community college cannot agree on the terms of the partnership agreement, the school district and community college must default to a Model Partnership Agreement (MPA) adopted by ISBE and ICCB in accordance with the Act. In early 2019, ISBE and ICCB appointed and convened the Dual Credit Committee to develop the MPA, with equal representation from school districts and community colleges. Our team at Education Systems Center at NIU (EdSystems) was brought on by the agencies to staff and facilitate the work of this Committee.
The MPA’s Development Process and Key Themes
Between March and May 2019, our team at EdSystems convened seven meetings of the Committee, developed the meeting materials, drafted sections of the MPA for review, and facilitated the discussions of the Committee to reach consensus. The Committee determined the MPA should be more than just a statutory default – the members strove to create a model of recommended practice for communities to scale and ensure access to a comprehensive, quality dual credit program. Committee members worked collaboratively to address the needs and concerns of both community colleges and school districts, while remaining focused on student access and supports. The final version of the MPA was adopted by the Committee in June 2019. It was adopted and published by ISBE and ICCB, along with a Frequently Asked Questions document, in July 2019.
The MPA emphasizes three key themes that the Committee felt were essential to a successful dual credit partnership:
- Engaging leadership and establishing clear roles: The MPA focuses on engagement of leadership in dual credit delivery through an annual comprehensive assessment of the partnership. The MPA ensures that a “Liaison” position is established at both the district and college with responsibility for managing the partnership and coordinating all aspects of dual credit delivery.
- Creating a collaborative process for thorny issues: The MPA lays out a clear, collaborative process for the district and college to follow, in which districts are guided on how to submit instructors for approval, and colleges must follow a comprehensive review process and indicate a legitimate basis for any disapproval. The MPA clearly outlines the issues that must be considered and documented by both parties prior to the start of course delivery, with the goal of minimizing later disagreements.
- Placing students at the center: The MPA emphasizes expanding student access to dual credit and ensuring student supports. To ensure equitable access, all placement requirements must be evidence-based and include multiple measures. Further, the MPA directs the partnership’s focus on courses that provide the greatest benefit to students when they transition to college through a cost structure that prioritizes dual credit courses most likely to transfer or that are embedded in career pathway course sequences. The community college and district must both identify and establish pre-college and college transition advising services, with a focus on supporting those needing additional help to transition into college.
With the adoption of the MPA, what’s next? Outreach! We at EdSystems plan to support the State’s outreach efforts, which will include a State of Illinois MPA Guide, a website to provide additional resources and best practice examples, and webinars and in-person workshop retreats to engage with high school and community college staff involved in offering dual credit courses. Contact Heather Penczak, Policy and Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can help your community’s efforts to expand student access to valuable early college opportunities.
 ICCB. Dual Credit: Learn Once, Earn Twice. Citing Cassidy, L. & Keating, K & Young, V. (2010). Dual enrollment: Lessons learned on school-level implementation. U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Smaller Learning Communities program. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/slcp/finaldual.pdf.
 ICCB. Dual Credit in the Illinois Community College System. Fiscal Year 2018. P. 5.