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by Joe Nathan
in the HometownSource.com on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools Superintendent David Law is one of many rural, suburban and urban education and community leaders wisely questioning new MnSCU policies on dual-credit courses.

As of June 1, 32 people have signed onto a letter urging MnSCU to put students first by revising new, much more expensive, rigid policies on these courses, which high school students can take to earn college credits. They include district and charter leaders; directors of statewide organizations, such as the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota Rural Education Association and Minnesota Association of Charter Schools; research and advocacy groups, including Growth and Justice, MinnCAN and Students for Education Reform; as well as the Center for School Change, where I work. Leaders of African-American, American Indian and Hispanic/Latino groups also have signed. It’s a very unusual coalition.

Alice Seagren, former state legislator and Minnesota Commissioner of Education, agrees with them. She believes “MnSCU is being short-sighted.” Seagren praised the “passionate partners” who are trying to help Minnesota families save thousands of dollars in college costs via concurrent enrollment. She also noted that these courses help increase high school and college graduation rates, with more students earning a postsecondary degree or certificate. That’s good for the state, as well as students.

The 32 leaders ask that MnSCU Chancellor Steve Rosenstone and MnSCU Leadership Council Chair Richard Hanson, who is Bemidji State University’s president, meet with them. The education and community officials want to help revise new policies that, as written, will make offering dual-credit courses much more expensive, and in some cases, impossible.

The letter raises two concerns. First, quietly and without involving K-12 partners, MnSCU planned up to 100 percent increases in high schools’ costs to offer concurrent enrollment courses with MnSCU’s two-year colleges. Several MnSCU colleges now charge $2,500 the first time the course is offered, and $1,500 for each subsequent class. That will increase to $3,000 by the 2021-22 school year.

A MnSCU memo notes that this has been discussed for more than a year. But as Fred Nolan, Minnesota Rural Education Association executive director, told me, the large price increases were “a complete surprise” when he recently learned about them.

MnSCU’s new prices will be especially difficult for small district and charter schools. That’s because they frequently offer just one section of a concurrent enrollment class. Larger high schools offering several sections of the same class will pay less, because MnSCU won’t charge for additional sections. Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe spoke for many when she told me, “MNSCU may be disappointed in the long-term effects on participation due to the escalating costs.”

A second concern that the letter raises involves how MnSCU responded to a Higher Learning Commission demand. The HLC wants high school educators who teach college-level courses to have advanced degrees or what it calls “tested experience,” showing expertise in a field.

Asked by Minnesota state legislators last fall to share research that this was necessary, the HLC executive director could offer none. In fact, officials from some MnSCU institutions, such as Central Lakes College, shared their research showing students taught by high school faculty produced stronger work than those taught by “regular” college faculty.

The HLC is offering an extension to meet requirements of up to five years, but MnSCU is demanding that all new concurrent-enrollment faculty meet HLC requirements now. MnSCU also is taking a very rigid approach to accepting “tested experience,” compared to the University of Minnesota.

The letter urges that MnSCU leaders meet with education and community officials to discuss how MnSCU will handle this. Hopkins Public Schools Superintendent John Schultz, whose system has 16 sections of a concurrent-enrollment course in financial literacy, told me these new credentialing requirements “may end the whole thing.”

The letter, available at http://bit.ly/1ZcP1jH, concludes that the discussion they propose between K-12 educators and MnSCU will serve needs of K-12 students, MnSCU and “most important, the citizens of Minnesota who support, participate in and benefit from education.”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.


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