A few years ago, surveys found that increasing numbers of high school graduates needed to take “catch up” classes in college. Some Minnesota community colleges reported that as many as 40% of incoming students were enrolled in remedial courses. The concern was that high schools should have been doing a better job with kids so that families didn’t have to pay twice — once through taxes paid to support K-12, and again for remedial (now called developmental) classes.
But the head of the Minnesota State system of community colleges and universities said educators are backing away from that argument because it isn’t very productive. Chancellor Devinder Malhotra recently told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that finger pointing alone doesn’t advance the goal of educating more students.
To that end, he and his administration are smartly working with K-12 schools — and working independently — to meet students where they are and help them become ready for college. And that matters because Minnesota is home to one of the largest K-12 achievement gaps in the nation. The Minnesota State system already serves many lower-income, minority and first-generation college students and is well-positioned to include even more.
That’s important not only for the individual students but for the state as a whole. Minnesota cannot afford to leave its fastest-growing populations behind educationally. The state’s future prosperity is tied to having a well-educated workforce.
Colleges within the Minnesota State system are rightly encouraging concurrent enrollment — a program that allows students to complete college courses at their high schools while fulfilling high school course requirements at the same time. Minnesota State institutions are also participating in Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) in which high school kids attend college classes and earn college and high school credit. Another variation on that theme is the technical course option. Under that program, 10th-graders can take a technical college-level course on a college campus. Each of the options can help students get a jump start on career and educational plans after high school.
And beginning in 2017, eight metro-area Minnesota State institutions began offering a new summer bridge program, the Summer Scholars Academy (SSA). Thanks to a gift from a generous donor, the program helps prepare students for college during the summer.
Evaluations of the first two SSA programs have shown good results. In two years, students and families have saved a total of $277,917 in credit-related costs because they didn’t need remedial classes. Of the 346 students who have participated in an SSA program, 72% both enrolled for credit courses in the following fall semester and were able to move to a higher-level placement in one or more SSA subject areas.
Minnesota State is not alone in offering these types of programs, and groups including the NAACP, Urban Leagues and numerous foundations have offered college preparation programs. Still, it can significantly broaden the impact when the state’s largest college system helps pave the way for more students to be academically successful.