By Joe Nathan
Families and students have great opportunities in the next several months to help stand up for one of Minnesota’s best ideas that currently is under attack. The idea is that high school students can take courses that earn free college credit.
Sadly, the Higher Learning Commission and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, aka MnSCU or Minnesota State, are making it more difficult and expensive for Minnesota high schools to offer these courses.
However, people like Fred Nolan, Jon Peterson, Lee-Ann Stephens, Louis Porter and Julie Williams are trying to preserve, protect and expand these classes. I hope families, students and community members will join them in this struggle.
As happens sometimes in education, what’s best for students and families is getting lost. Nolan, Peterson, Porter and Stephens represent a new rural, suburban and urban Minnesota coalition that is trying to protect courses taught in high school in collaboration with Minnesota colleges and universities. Students who succeed in these courses earn free college credit that is recognized by Minnesota public colleges and universities and some private colleges and universities in this and other states.
Nolan is executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. Peterson directs the St. Paul Public Schools Office of College and Career Readiness. Stephens, who works in St. Louis Park, is the 2006 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year. She has written, “The issue is really about equity and access.” Porter directs the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage. Williams directs the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program.
Over the last six months, Williams has met with college and high school faculty, some of whom have successfully taught College in the Schools courses for 10-15 years. High school and U of M college faculty developed ways teachers can demonstrate the “tested experience” the Higher Learning Commission says is one way to show high school faculty are qualified to teach these courses.
MnSCU system administrators repeatedly rejected requests from high school leaders to meet with MnSCU decision-makers about “tested experience” and a MnSCU decision to double dual credit course costs for many schools over the next several years.
After working autonomously for months, MnSCU asked K-12 educators to offer feedback on tested experience during what was for many the last week of the school year. Some high school educators responded – even though that’s a very busy time in the school year.
After hearing from high schools, Pakou Yang, MnSCU’s system director of P-20 and college readiness, wrote in June that the MnSCU Leadership Council “decided to table any further action at this point” – so MnSCU currently won’t recognize tested experience. MnSCU Chancellor Steve Rosenstone declined a request from K-12 educators and community leaders to meet with his Leadership Council.
Meanwhile, MnSCU spent the summer preparing a request to the Higher Learning Commission to extend, for up to five years, the time high school faculty would have to meet the commission’s requirements. Steve Kauffman, the commission’s public information officer, told me on Sept. 12 that this request is due Dec. 15.
Peterson found out in mid-August that MnSCU was planning to ask for an extension only for faculty currently approved to teach these classes – not for others who might be added. Peterson also learned that MnSCU was demanding that school systems provide information about teachers in just a few weeks.
Nolan summarized the situation, here: http://bit.ly/2ciFvJN.
What can families and students do?
–Consider attending a free, statewide meeting that 25 community, business and education groups (including those mentioned above) are planning on Nov. 5. I’ll give more information soon about that meeting.
–Write to MnSCU’s board, urging that its Leadership Council meet and work with K-12 educators, students and community members who value concurrent enrollment. The board chair is Michael Vekich. His email is [email protected] The full board roster, with contact information, is at http://bit.ly/2cZgc3D.
–Urge state Legislature candidates to make protecting dual-credit a priority.
Students are best served when educators collaborate with each other along with families and students. It’s time to remind the MnSCU board that openness and collaboration are valuable and vital.
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 [email protected]