High schoolers’ post-secondary options start in 10th grade

Nathan-on-Education-newImportant decisions were made recently. Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and a number of local superintendents have decided it’s time for thousands of Minnesota families and students to have better information about some key education opportunities.

In mid-January, the Minnesota Department of Education posted a revised, updated and very helpful set of materials about Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

PSEO responds to challenges students face regarding college costs and college readiness. Over the last several months, I’ve cited research and experience showing that high school students who take “Dual (high school/college) Credit” classes are more likely to graduate from high school, enter a one-, two- or four-year higher education program, and graduate from some form of higher education.

Minnesota has been one of the nation’s leaders in this area since 1985, when PSEO was proposed by the now late Gov. Rudy Perpich and approved (on a bipartisan basis, with help from former Gov. Al Quie and state Rep. Connie Levi) by the state Legislature. Many Minnesota high schools responded to PSEO by creating new Dual Credit courses, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in Schools and Project Lead the Way.

Up until 2012, PSEO allowed 11th and 12th graders to take courses on college campuses, full or part time, with state funds following students, paying all tuition and book fees. In 2012, the law was expanded to allow 10th graders to participate.

Since fall, 2012, sophomores who had passed the state’s eighth grade reading test have been allowed to take one career technical course, and if they earned a “C” or higher, they could take additional courses. Also, some colleges developed online PSEO courses, and the Legislature allocated funds to help students from low-income families pay for transportation to PSEO classes.

Unfortunately, many youngsters, families and some educators did not know about the 10th grade option, the online PSEO courses and the transportation funds available. Over the last two months, I’ve looked at registration materials on more than 60 Minnesota high school websites. Less than 10 percent had information about the 10th grade option, and even fewer had information about online courses and transportation assistance.

Marisa Gustafson, with the Center for School Change, and I discussed this with MDE officials. They pointed out that the department held meetings around Minnesota last fall to discuss dual credit programs. More than 700 educators attended.

Over the last three weeks, I contacted superintendents in about 40 districts, asking them to review materials they share with students. I acknowledged that they may be distributing information that’s not on their website. More than 80 percent of those superintendents responded favorably. Those districts either have revised materials or are in the process of revising materials to meet state law’s requirement that information be shared with students by March 1. For example:

Little Falls High School Principal Tim Bjorge wrote, “The 10th grade PSEO CTE option is discussed and presented to students during our February registration meeting held each year. The web page you viewed will be updated and reflect the 10th grade option. iPads are provided to every student who attends LFCHS. Students who attend LFCHS on a part time basis (less than 50 percent) have access to iPads at school. I have not received any recent information from MDE about the 10th grade PSEO option since it went into affect. We disseminate information to students in grades 8-11 in February each year during our registration process which includes the Minnesota PSEO program.”

He continued, “We have updated our 2014-2015 registration materials. Little Falls is fortunate to have 5.0 FTE that are CTE certified and offer 18 articulated courses for college credit. We also offer 19 concurrent classes for college credit (55 MnSCU college credits).”

Pierz Supt. George Weber said, “I met with our guidance counselor and went over some of the questions. The 2013-14 registration manual does contain more information about PSEO and CIS courses as well as the process for accessing those courses.

“We have provided that document directly to all students and all parents. We found more response when we gave them out directly than just saying it was on the website.

“Pierz has been a proponent of college courses for many years; long before it got the attention it is getting now. We currently offer around 20 different college courses in almost every discipline.

“Pierz has also been using ITV instruction to provide PSEO courses for more than 15 years. So for the most part, our students and parents are quite used to the idea of taking college courses during high school.

“We try to work with the students to make sure they are prepared for the rigor and more importantly the independence required to be successful in a college course,” said Weber.

Vern Capelle, Upsala’s K-12 dean of students, said, “We will not make an official revision until we begin the registration process later this spring. We have opened up some PSEO/CIS course options for sophomore students based on the language contained in the legislative statute.

“As far as receiving encouragement from the MDE, we have received information regarding the options to 10th grade students from MDE and through various administrative conferences.

“We begin the consultation process with students in grades 8, 9, 10 in mid-February. Due to the fact that we receive a multitude of PSEO/CIS courses through ITV delivery, we wait until the proposed schedule of these courses is distributed. We have a wide variety of course offerings that are mainly available to 11th and 12th graders. This year, we also began to offer the coursework necessary for our students to graduate with an AA degree. The class of 2015 will be the first class we have that will have members accomplish this.

“We do have the PSEO/CIS language outlined in our registration materials, not in the student handbook, which will be published as soon as it is updated to reflect our course offerings for 2014-2015,” said Capelle.

Wise families will review PSEO along with other dual credit options, considering the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org

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