PSEO details finally flowing to families

Districts now providing important information



Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Important decisions were made in recent weeks. 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.

The Minnesota Department of Education posted a revised, updated and very helpful set of materials about Postsecondary Enrollment Options here:

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-Credit (high school/college) classes are more likely to graduate from high school, enter a higher education program and graduate.

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.

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.

But meeting attendance often did not translate into information in registration materials. So, Commissioner Cassellius arranged for more comprehensive materials to be posted at the website referenced earlier.

Over 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 responded favorably and 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.

“We will be making the necessary changes to the registration guide to reflect the 10th-grade option,” Forest Lake High School Principal Steve Massey wrote.

“As you can see in our online and interactive registration guide, we place a significant emphasis on college readiness,” Massey continued. “Over the years, we have built an Advanced Placement and College in the Schools program wrapped around our mission which is: ‘To ensure that all students graduate with the skills necessary to attend any college, university, technical college, or training program – and succeed.’

“While PSEO has been, and will continue to be, a fitting program for some students, our comprehensive AP and CIS options enable students to earn significant college credit without leaving the high school. We believe that our comprehensive elective program, rooted in a college and career readiness program, further prepares students for college and careers.

“In addition to our AP and CIS program, many of our courses are articulated with local community and technical colleges. In fact, we have recently joined efforts with Pine Technical College to create a concurrent enrollment program with our Health Care Careers program that grants seven college credits and we are in discussion with PTC to create a similar concurrent enrollment program with our Emergency Medical Responder and Emergency Medical Technician program.

“We believe that students can have a blended high school and college experience without leaving the high school campus. We have many students who earn up to a full-year of college or more without ever leaving our campus. That said, we counsel students who are interested in PSEO through the enrollment process and we work together with colleges to transition credits for graduation.

PSEO is an excellent program for the right student.”

Wise families will review PSEO along with other dual-credit options, considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. Conversations over the last two months make clear that whether it’s the commissioner of education or district staff, there is a widespread commitment to helping more young people be better prepared, and more able to afford some form of higher education.

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