Project offers ‘an amazing chance’ for high school students of color’
Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) classes allow Minnesota high school juniors and seniors to earn college credits that can be applied at most local colleges and universities around the state. These classes are offered on college campuses and are available “to all pupils in grades 8, 9, 10 and 11,” says the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) website, which also points out that most classes are only open to high school juniors and seniors.
A state law passed in 2012, however, allows 10th graders to take PSEO classes, and they can continue taking them if they get a C or higher grade. The particular school district offering such courses must provide updated information and distribute it to parents and students by March 1 of each year. Students from low-income families “may qualify for some mileage reimbursement” to take PSEO classes on campus if they meet eligibility requirements, states the MDE website.
However, this information isn’t promoted enough to these students and families, insists Center for School Change Director Joe Nathan, who advocates “informed urgency” in local schools. “We have a terrible problem in this state getting information to families,” he said in a recent MSR interview.
“I agree with Joe,” said Higher Ground Academy Principal Samuel Yigzaw. “I know students in other schools that…aren’t aware of the benefits, and they don’t take advantage of the opportunities. I think you need to educate the parents. It has to be part of the advising and counseling that is given to the students.”
“I never heard of these classes being offered,” admitted Gordon Parks High School senior Teresa Mota, age 17. Her school was among six St. Paul charter and district high schools that participated in a three-year-old pilot program to increase enrollment in PSEO or “dual-credit” classes. The three-year grant was funded by several local foundations specifically to provide training and support for students taking dual credit classes. Unlike traditional PSEO classes, where high school students take classes on college campuses, dual credit classes are college courses taught by the schools’ existing teaching staff.
The Increasing College Readiness (ICR) project included Higher Ground Academy, and Community of Peace, all St. Paul charter schools, and St. Paul Public Schools AGAPE, Creative Arts, Open World and Gordon Parks. All have “high percentages of students from low-income families [and] potential first-generation college students,” and for all these schools except Open World (58 percent), nearly 80 percent their student populations are students of color.
The ICR progress report released in November showed that all six schools combined had a 384 percent increase in duel-credit course enrollment from 2010 to 2014.
“It falls in line with our idea of encouraging post-secondary education, and also in line with the school’s purpose,” continued Yigzaw. Over 99 percent of Higher Ground students are students of color, and the number of students taking duel-credit classes grew from 36 in 2010 to 112 in 2014.
“The students are really excited about those classes,” Yigzaw told the MSR. “They understand the financial benefits. They understand the exposure. It is an increasing interest among our students and our parents. The interest is very high. The parents like it.”
Mota is one of 57 Gordon Parks students enrolled in dual-credit courses taught at the school last year — only five were enrolled in 2010. “It gives you a good preparation and an idea of how college could be,” said Mota, who wants to study business, “Something with art, interior design and maybe psychology” in college.
Mota, a prospective first-generation college student, told the MSR that she plans to attend the University of Minnesota after she graduates from Gordon Parks this coming spring. “Nobody in my family has gone to college,” added Mota.”
“Dual enrollment [classes] can benefit a [whole] range of students, and may have the greatest positive impact on these students,” continued Nathan on their importance.
“We think it’s really a good thing for the children — they can get exposed to college, earn credits toward college, and they come out well prepared from it,” said Yigzaw, pointing out that some students are sometimes discouraged from PSEO classes and “are reluctant” to enroll
“These classes are more challenging than regular high school classes. The school has to provide support or otherwise they get discouraged and withdraw. You have to let the students know what it is all about, and [what it means] in terms of time and effort,” said the Higher Ground principal. “They can get through [the classes], but they need some support.”
Tutors are available for PSEO students at Higher Ground when needed. “That entices and motivates the students,” continued Yigzaw. “If [the students] struggle, they know where to go to. That has to be in place in order to encourage more students to take these classes. Once you encourage [a student] to take PSEO and AP [advance placement] classes, we need to make support available to them.”
“These classes taught me a lot,” noted Mota. “It made me believe that when it comes around to me actually going to college, I’d be prepared. I will know what I’ll be going up against. I know I can handle it.”
Nathan said that even though the grant funds have run out, the program is now sustainable. “We are finding money and reserving money for [PSEO classes],” said Yigzaw.
St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva is a strong supporter of the program, said Nathan, who added that he hopes to meet soon with Minneapolis Public Schools officials who have shown similar interest. He believes that there is a greater awareness of dual-credit courses, especially among low-income families and families of color on these “free courses.”
“This is an amazing chance for students,” concluded Mota.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com