Are schools informing students of free college classes?

Report examines how MN schools districts promote Post-Secondary Education Option

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Minnesota high school students wishing to enroll in Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) courses for the 2016-17 school year must inform their school by May 30. The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 mandated that school districts provide “up-to-date” information on PSEO on their websites as well as distribute information materials to students and families.

The PSEO program allows 10th, 11th and 12th grade students to earn college credits while in high school through taking and successfully completing college-level courses on participating college campuses or online at no cost to the students. According to Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), each district must provide up-to-date PSEO information on its website by March 1 of each year and distribute such materials, including enrollment requirement information to parents and students in grades 8, 9, 10 and 11.

The MSR asked the co-directors of the St. Paul-based Center for School Change (CSC) is this information reaching these students, especially Blacks, low-income, first-generation college students and other students of color. CSC Co-Director John Miller asked that the “first step” is putting PSEO information on the website.

Co-Director Malik Bush added, “If the information is not on the website, there is no way [students and families] can easily navigate the system. And we need to make sure we get [paper] information to families that don’t have [internet] access.”

CSC last September published “Families Need to Know about PSEO,” a report which examined 87 Minnesota school districts and charter schools — one per county if they were complying with PSEO requirements. Among its findings CSC found that over half (55 percent) of district or school websites are “sometimes extremely difficult” to find out PSEO information, and only 45 percent of the websites had a search function to get some information.

“We went and did a check in August 2015 [and] the numbers were tiny in terms of compliance — less than five percent of our sample,” explained Bush. “By March 1, 2016, right before we released this report, the compliance went up enormously — almost 90 percent. When informed, they got it together.”

The MSR sample checked three local district websites: Minneapolis, St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin. St. Paul had a dedicated PSEO page with a link to direct you to the MDE website for more information. A Minneapolis spokesperson told us that each high school has PSEO information on their respective website, but only South, Edison, Roosevelt, Southwest and Washburn listed PSEO as a drop-down option from its home page.

MPS Director of Advance Academics Melanie Crawford said that the district has worked with CSC to ensure that PSEO information gets out to students and families. She said it is easily accessible.

“There isn’t one best way to get this information,” Crawford noted, adding that students and families access this on high schools and district websites. She also said that “yearly meetings” and family nights also are used for disseminating PSEO information.

We weren’t able, however, to find anything on PSEO on the Anoka-Hennepin website or the individual high school sites. Jeffrey McGonigal, associate superintendent of Anoka Hennepin Public Schools, responded to our request by providing their PSEO website: www.anoka.k12.mn.us/Page/19332, stating by email that, “Recent legislation necessitates some updates which we are working on at this time… College opportunity is a high priority for Anoka-Hennepin Schools, which is why we are working hard to better prepare our students with programs like AVID and College Possible.”

“The good news is that [districts] are doing a lot better at this,” said Miller, who praised State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius for her pushing school districts and charter schools in making PSEO information available. “That helps enormously.”

“You can take one PSEO class in the fall of [the student’s] 10th grade,” explained Miller on the “Career and Technical Education” course, and if the student gets a C or higher grade, they are eligible to take additional courses.

Miller also pointed out, however, that some districts might see PSEO as a “built-in disincentive” because the state per-pupil funding doesn’t come to the district if the student is taking college classes: “The per-pupil money from the state, and the amount of time that student stays away from campus, that money for the most part goes to the college.”

Furthermore, Bush said, “I think that in some schools, they don’t think students can handle being on campus, that they won’t do well, that they don’t have the support structures. PSEO is a student right — a state law — if they can meet the entry requirements. The state covers that cost.”

Are charter schools doing better than traditional public school districts in informing students and parents about PSEO? Miller responded, “I don’t know if charter schools are doing any better than districts.”

When asked if students and parents should receive PSEO information possibly as early as seventh grade, Miller replied, “Eighth grade is not too early.”

He continued, “The word is starting to get out,” about PSEO. “First-generation college kids, low-income and kids of color benefit from taking [PSEO and other such classes]. When they take them, now all of a sudden college is possible and their motivation goes up.”

PSEO allows students to see college as a real possibility at no cost to them, explained Bush. “When they actually start taking classes, it makes an enormous difference…to see their future in ways they didn’t see before.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.