New free tools help families save thousands in college costs

Nathan-on-Education-newWant to save money and time with college costs? Several free new tools can help high school students and their families.

The first is an interactive map answering questions parents, students and other family members have asked over the last several years. This Minnesota map allows you to click on each public or private non-profit college or university in the state.

You’ll learn:

• Which institutions offer Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) courses; and

• Whether the institution offers college credit for dual high school college credit courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), College in the Schools — “CLEP” — a test that determines whether students have mastered college level material or concurrent enrollment.

Because credit policies vary, the map also provides links to the colleges’ or universities’ Web sites. The Web sites explain each institution’s policies on various Dual Credit (DC) options. For example, some colleges limit the number of credits they will accept. Some award credit for AP or IB only to students who achieve a certain score on the final examination. This can help students decide which DC programs they will enroll in, and where they will apply after high school graduation.

The map was created primarily by Jordan Lim, a sophomore at Macalester College who served as an intern at the Center for School Change (CSC), where I work. CSC staff member Marisa Gustafson also helped. The map is on CSC’s home page,

The CSC Web site also hosts 16 90-second to three-minute You-Tube videos, in which students explain the value of various forms of DC. These videos are in English, Arabic, Hmong, Karen, Somali and Spanish. Students at Neighborhood House, Migizi Communications and the High School for Recording Arts designed and developed the videos.

PACER did another video showing a young man on the autism spectrum who used PSEO. Funding for these videos came from you – taxpayers – via the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the U.S. Department of Education.

The MDE and CSC will present several free Webinars in the next few months, discussing dual enrollment and answering questions. Some are for high school and college education faculty. Others will be for families and students. Registration information is on the Web site.

The MDE has created another free resource, providing district by district data about use of various dual enrollment options. Their “Rigorous Course Taking” report is available at

The report also shows how much each district in the state received, of the more than $4 million available, to help train teachers for either AP or IB courses. MDE also shares good news – the number of students participating in these courses has grown steadily over the last five years. The number of students taking AP, for example, has increased from 23,164 to 37,363. PSEO participants increased from 5,852 to 6,353.

Many young people are ready for an additional challenge while in high school. Whether it’s an academic class or an applied career-tech course, Minnesota is among the nation’s leaders in recognizing this, and allowing high school students to earn college credit.

Students can save thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars and be better prepared for college and career, by taking these courses.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, is director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].