Good news for students, families and taxpayers

Program providing free tech courses is under-utilized, under-promoted


Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Here’s good news for Minnesota students, families and taxpayers about closing achievement gaps and improving high school graduation rates. State data shows dramatically better high school graduation rates for students who take at least 240 hours of career technical courses – that’s between two or three courses. These can be great opportunities for “hands-on learning” and career exploration.

In spring 2012, Minnesota legislators approved allowing public high school 10th-graders who have passed the state’s eighth-grade reading test and meet course-specific requirements to take one free career-technical course on a Minnesota State College campus. If the 10th-graders earn a C or higher, they can take additional career-tech courses in the second semester. Now, after reviewing the lack of information about this on several campus websites, Steven Rosenstone, MnSCU’s chancellor, has set a goal of updating each website by Feb. 15.

Minnesota Department of Education research shows the value of career tech courses for each of nine “subgroups” of Minnesota high school students. This chart is posted at

For example, 67 percent of African Americans who took at least 240 hours of high school career tech courses graduated in four years, compared to an overall four-year graduation rate of 51 percent. Here are the figures together by category for comparison; I’ve rounded to the nearest percent: African American (67/51), American Indian (75/46), Asian Pacific (82/74), Hispanic (77/53), White (91/84), Economically Disadvantaged (80/60), English Language Learners (73/51), Individuals with Disabilities (69/56) and overall (88/78).

The data above compare the four-year high school graduation rate of students who took at least 240 hours of career technical courses and graduated in spring 2013 with those who graduated overall in 2012. MDE spokesperson Josh Collins says that the agency will post 2013 graduation rates by early March. Exact comparisons can be made then. Year-to-year graduation rates generally don’t vary much.

Most of these courses were taken in high schools, so research is not urging students to take career or tech courses only on college campuses. But it is a great option, either in a high school or on a college campus.

Recently retired, 30-year western Hennepin County Sen. Gen Olson was chief Senate author of the law expanding post-secondary options to career tech courses for 10th graders.

“In this age of instant communications, it is hard to believe that 18 months later, this information has not been included on all MnSCU websites and in other formats accessible to prospective MnSCU PSEO students,” she told me.

“I’m pleased to hear that this practice is changing because such an experience can open the eyes of students to career opportunities to which they have not been exposed, can create a renewed excitement about learning key subjects when they can see how that knowledge is used, and can help students tempted to drop out to see the value of graduating from high school, while getting a head start on college at the same time.”

State Sen. Terri Bonoff, chair of the Senate Finance – Higher Education and Workforce Committee, praised the chancellor’s decision as “a positive step. It’s important for all our young people to have this opportunity.”

Earlier this year I reviewed websites at 17 of Minnesota’s two-year, public colleges. Eight, almost half, had no information about the 10th-grade option on their PSEO home pages.

Contacted about this, Rosenstone responded in less than a week. “Thank you for bringing this information to my attention,” he said. “We will work with each college to make sure their websites are clear to high school students regarding the opportunities for career and technical (CTE) courses. … We anticipate all campuses having their websites updated by Feb. 15.”

Some colleges have especially helpful websites. They not only explain options, but also explain which courses students can take as 10th-, 11th- or 12th-graders.

For example, see Century College’s page at and Dakota Technical College’s page at

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at [email protected]