EAST PEORIA — Almost 20 percent of Illinois Central College’s part-time instructors may not be eligible to teach this semester, possibly jeopardizing the number, variety and size of classes available to students enrolling for courses set to begin Jan. 16.

The prospects of a sudden drop in faculty numbers comes in the midst of ICC’s major new campaign to increase student enrollment in both traditional classes and high school dual-credit courses.

Dozens of faculty members were notified over Thanksgiving break they will no longer be scheduled to teach courses that transfer to four-year colleges. The teachers, some of whom have years of experience at ICC, had until Nov. 30 to show they have a master’s degree in the subject they teach or have graduate-level credits in the subject.

ICC President Sheila Quirk-Bailey said 91 of the college’s 490 adjunct faculty are affected by changes in the college’s accreditation requirements. Additionally, 10 of the college’s 167 full-time faculty will now teach a narrower range of classes.

Quirk-Bailey expects to cover faculty needs for the spring semester by recruiting new part-time instructors, consolidating some classes, offering more online options and increasing the course loads of remaining full- and part-time faculty.

Several instructors expressed disappointment about how ICC handled the notifications.

“I think ICC played fast and loose with the rules and it bit us,” said one teacher who asked for anonymity because he’d like to teach at the school again. “I understand it’s not their decision, but they could’ve asked for an extension or given us enough notice to meet the qualifications.”

The community college’s situation goes back to June 2015, when the Higher Learning Commission — the accrediting agency for about 1,000 institutions in a 19-state region — issued revised guidelines of longstanding expectations on faculty qualifications.

The regulations apply to any instructor who teaches college-credit courses, not just courses that transfer to four-year institutions. The deadline to comply with the new guidelines was September 2017. However, the fall 2017 semester began in August, before the September deadline went into effect.

ICC also checked into the possibility of getting a two-year extension for part-time instructors to re-qualify, but the option was no longer available.

The growth of dual-credit courses in high schools prompted the HLC to revise policies to alleviate widespread inconsistencies among qualifications of instructors teaching college-transfer courses. For instance, many high school dual-credit teachers have master’s degrees in education rather than the subject they teach.

Ironically, just months after colleges began dealing with the new HLC guidelines, ICC was one of only 44 colleges nationwide selected for a federal pilot program designed to increase student participation in dual-credit classes.

After the HLC clarified guidelines in March 2016, ICC reviewed qualifications of all faculty, including dual-credit teachers at area high schools.

“The college used the broadest interpretation of the standards possible to minimize the impact on our students and faculty,” Quirk-Bailey said in an e-mailed response, adding that ICC was not alone in using a broad interpretation. .

Apparently, the interpretations were too broad. After evaluating how colleges applied the new standards, the HLC clarified all instructors must have a master’s degree or 18 graduate-level credit hours corresponding to the subjects they teach.

The letter to instructors stated “tested experience” could not substitute for credentials.

Professional experience can count for some of the requirements, according to Steve Kauffman, a spokesman for HLC.

The accrediting agency gives schools flexibility in how they apply the guidelines to each faculty member, Kauffman said, because the schools know more about their course content, curriculum and students’ needs.

“However, the institution should be able to provide proof of fair and equal process in evaluating qualifications of faculty,” he said.

The possibility of five-year extensions to meet the deadlines was available for instructors of high school dual-credit courses only, Kauffman said.

Officials at two nearby colleges, Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg and Spoon River College in Canton, said their schools have not been affected by the new guidelines. Spoon River has been following HLC guidelines for faculty credentials since 2002, according to its president, Curt Oldfield.

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said PPS will be affected slightly. The school district and ICC are collaborating to provide some online dual-credit classes.

Kyle Freeman, superintendent of the Washington Community High School district, is still trying to assess the impact for his school.

He has been notified some teachers may not be qualified to continue to teach dual-credit courses at the high school. But so far, only one class has been affected, he said.

ICC has arranged for an instructor from the community college to teach the course, a theater class, at the high school.

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.