A fine example of homegrown education policy innovation turns 30 years old with the start of the Minnesota school year. Since 1985, the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO), a first-in-the-nation idea championed by the late Gov. Rudy Perpich, has allowed high school students to enroll in classes on college campuses and simultaneously obtain both high school and college credit, at no tuition charge.
Today PSEO is one of a number of “dual-credit” opportunities for high school students to get a jump on their college educations. Others include Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program, and concurrent enrollment classes offered by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Together, these programs are blurring the boundary between high school and college for tens of thousands of students. Dual-credit programs save students time and money on their way to careers. They often fuel academic confidence and spark a desire for more learning. They help keep low-income and minority students in school and on track to high school graduation and additional postsecondary schooling.
Among them, PSEO is distinctive. Only PSEO brings a high school student to a college campus and immerses him or her in a collegiate environment and expectations. The taste of college it offers has proved particularly effective in boosting high school graduation rates. It’s a program worth sustaining and expanding, as several recent Legislatures have affirmed.
That’s why the results of a study released last month by the Center for School Change were disappointing. The St. Paul-based center checked a random sample of 87 school district websites for compliance with a 2014 state law requiring that public schools provide “up-to-date information” about PSEO for distribution to parents and students in grades 8-11.
The number of districts found fully compliant: zero. None advised that transportation assistance is available for students from low-income families. All but one failed to include information about online PSEO classes, a recent addition to the program. Only 14 percent described another recent change: the opportunity for 10th-graders to take PSEO classes in career and technical college programs.
Within days of the report’s release, state education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius issued model language about PSEO for use on school district websites. Joe Nathan, head of the Center for School Change, said he was gratified by the commissioner’s quick response. But he said he wonders why, after 30 years, school districts still seem less than eager to promote PSEO.
We suspect that the answer involves money. As beneficial as PSEO and other dual-credit programs have been for students and their families, they have been a financial drain on school districts. When a high school student opts for PSEO, a portion of the per-pupil state aid that normally flows to the district goes to the college of his or her choice instead. Other dual-credit programs entail faculty training costs, testing fees and other expenses for districts.
The 2015 Legislature added $4 million to district appropriations this year to offset some of those costs, and dedicated $600,000 to the development of PSEO courses in career and technical education. The latter adds a new wrinkle to PSEO. Both of those steps ought to be down payments on more state support in coming years. Dual-credit options are very good for students. They ought to be at least tolerable financially for schools.