Column: Telling the truth about ways to save on college costs

Remarkably, as Minnesota families rightly are concerned about college costs, Minnesota legislators are debating whether to allow colleges and universities to inform families that they can save dollars by having high school students take courses on postsecondary campuses.  The Minnesota House and Senate have taken different approaches, which they now need to reconcile.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Some Minnesota high schools tell students they can save dollars by taking college-level courses offered in high schools. That’s fine. But high school principal, school board and superintendent associations don’t want to allow colleges to inform families and students that taking courses on a college campus also can save them money.

This week Minnesota senators adopted an amendment to the PSEO law requiring districts to put information about PSEO on their websites. That’s OK, though each of the 90 high school websites I reviewed in the last four months already do this.

Unfortunately, as of January 2014, 90 percent of those websites didn’t tell students about key aspects of PSEO, like the 10th-grade option, online PSEO courses and transportation funds for students from low-income families. Since then, some districts added this information.

Responding to a coalition of educator, parent, community and business groups, the Minnesota House approved a six-word amendment to Minnesota’s Post Secondary Enrollment Options law. It eliminates a provision in the law currently preventing colleges from telling families and students they also can save dollars if high school students take courses on a college campus

An April 9 Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals email update to members explained: “The proponents of this bill claim it is a gag rule. This argument ignores the importance of responsible academic planning for students.”

Groups like the Minnesota State College Student Association, Parents United, Growth and Justice, Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Center for School Change (of which I’m the director) are all for “responsible academic planning.” These groups have testified in favor of the Minnesota House PSEO amendment that removes the ban preventing colleges from telling families they can save money via PSEO. Families and students with accurate information can make better plans.

Here are a few examples of useful high school informational Web pages about cost-savings available by taking college-level courses on a high school campus.

Richfield High School’s website shares information from the University of Minnesota describing “potential savings for families” by taking College in the Schools courses at Richfield High School: http://bit.ly/1l38sJI.

The website notes that in the 2009-10 school year, Richfield students saved up to $223,434 by taking College in the Schools courses, adding, “Families often save money when colleges their students attend recognize the UMN credits earned through College in the Schools.”

North St. Paul’s website reports that in the 2012-13 school year, their high school students earned 1,296 college credits from the University of Minnesota through the College in the Schools program. “This translates into a tuition savings of more than $595,000 for the families of students who take advantage of this opportunity.” (See more at http://bit.ly/1npsjVN.)

Mankato Public Schools’ website, http://bit.ly/1hnEIBD, praises “Minnesota Articulated College Credit” courses offered in the district’s high schools: “This is just like getting a scholarship without having to apply or earning advancement placement without having to take the AP test.”

Bob Wedl, former Minneapolis Public Schools administrator and former Minnesota Commissioner of Education, wrote an email pointing out that “those opposed to permitting post-secondary institutions informing students of the financial impact are the same ones that bitterly opposed Governor Perpich’s choice plan (including PSEO) when he first proposed it in 1985. It is time to say to them, ‘enough.’ Why would we not want students and families to have detailed information about the financial impact?”

School administrator groups say they don’t want to see dollars spent on advertising. OK. But they are not requesting a ban on district advertising in metro area magazines, music and theater programs In the January 2014 “Minnesota Parent,” for example, a Hopkins district advertisement explained, “We offer one of the most extensive AP/CIS programs in the state.” Minnetonka’s district explained that it is “Focused on World-Class Child Centered Education.” Another advertisement asserted, “Minneapolis is the Place to Learn.”

Since districts are providing information about their own programs, doesn’t it make sense to allow colleges to tell parents “you can save money by taking college courses on a college campus while a high school student”?

This isn’t just about free speech or fairness – it’s about helping families have accurate information so they make the best possible decisions for their youngsters.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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