‘Dang, I’m really going to college!’

Nathan-on-Education-newTaking college-level courses at his high school was “fantastic,” according to Khalique Rogers, a student at Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul.

“Our research shows that in just one year, these courses produced more than $13 million in potential savings for students and families,” according to Mary Olson, director of communication and public relations in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Both are referring to one of the greatest opportunities, or bargains, Minnesota public schools offer: the ability to earn free college credits while taking college-level courses offered in high school. In some high schools, students are earning a two-year (AA) college degree as they graduate from high school.

These courses are part of the overall “dual high school credit” course program available in Minnesota – one of the nation’s broadest set of opportunities. Post-Secondary Enrollment Options, PSEO, Minnesota’s law allowing 10th- through 12th-graders to take free college courses on college and university campuses, is one option.

But it’s equally important for students and families to know that in virtually every one of Minnesota’s high schools, students can earn free college credits in classes at the high school. There are many ways to do this, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools, Project Lead the Way and the CLEP tests.

For example, for many years, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School has offered dual credit courses. In the past few years, it has worked out arrangements with Central Lakes College to allow the high school to graduate some students who also have earned two-year AA degrees. A number of its students have done this.

And Little Falls, Pierz, Royalton and Upsala high schools offer students opportunities to stay in the building and still earn free college credits.

A recent report from the national College Board, an organization that produces and scores AP courses, showed that the number of Minnesota students who took an AP exam before leaving high school nearly doubled during the past decade, growing from 9,256 in 2003 to 17,482 in 2013. The number of students who posted passing scores on these exams also doubled, from 5,882 in 2003, to 11,497 in 2013.

Minnesota Department of Education estimates, “With an average rate of $348.93 per credit hour, those passing scores helped save Minnesota students and their families nearly $44 million.”

Karen Hynick, system director of P-20 and College Readiness for the Minnesota State College and Universities told me: “Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are deeply committed to advancing their partnership efforts with their local school districts to enable college- and program-ready students access to a variety of early college credit opportunities. Be it PSEO, concurrent enrollment or competency-based programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, these options provide students with the opportunity to accelerate their learning and save time and money on their quest for postsecondary degrees.”

Colleges and universities vary in   their   acceptance   policies  of these dual credit courses. Students who want their credit to “count” toward a college degree should check with higher education institutions that the student is considering to see what their policies are. 

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

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