Column: PSEO information flowing to parents

Important decisions were made in the last week.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

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.

Last week 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 (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.

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 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:

Mary Olson, director of communications and public relations for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, told me, “We plan to communicate with teachers throughout the district, since our research shows that the number one influence on student decisions is teacher recommendation.”

In addition, “I have had a number of email exchanges with pertinent staff regarding PSEO,” Olson said.

“We have not been able to meet because of all the lost days, however, we have tentatively agreed to put the following statement on our website:

“Some grade 10 students may be eligible to take post-secondary Career and Technical course (CTE) at a postsecondary institution at no cost through the Post Secondary Educational Options (PSEO) program.

“If you are interested, please discuss this with your counselor to see if you qualify and if this would be a good option for you.”

Olson reported that, “According to Jessica Lipa of our Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP), we do advertise the grade 10 option on documents related to concurrent enrollment. These are documents students get a registration time.

“She said very few students statewide are taking advantage of this, not because districts aren’t publicizing it but because students have found that it is not a very practical option.

“There are logistical drawbacks with scheduling, timing and transportation.

“While economically disadvantaged students would be eligible for mileage reimbursement, most 10th graders don’t drive.

“Because of STEP she believes there may be more flexibility at Anoka Technical College, though currently STEP is for juniors and seniors (and it’s full).

Also, in conversations with parents, she has found they have concerns that their 10th graders are not mature enough to handle a course at a postsecondary institution and that it may be too rigorous.”

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.

Editor’s note: Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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