School districts should get the word out about PSEO, report says

As a New York state high school student, Diana Chao took courses that earned her college credits and helped to fuel a desire for higher learning that brought her to Macalester College in St. Paul. Now, she has discovered that Minnesota high school students don’t have as easy a time learning about dual-credit opportunities here.

Chao is the co-author of a Center for School Change report released Monday that shows that about nine out of 10 school districts and charter schools fail to provide current information about PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) programs on their websites or in their written materials. Now 30 years old, PSEO allows high school students to do all or part of their coursework at participating colleges and universities.

The center’s report suggests that not enough students are being made aware of newer features such as the availability of career or technical courses for 10th-graders or of the possibilities of taking PSEO courses online or of receiving transportation assistance to local colleges or universities if they are low-income.

The St. Paul-based Center for School Change and its director, Joe Nathan, champion dual-credit courses as a way for students to save on future tuition costs. Nathan, in particular, touts the value of such programs — College in the Schools and Advanced Placement courses being two other options — for students who come from families unaccustomed to moving on to higher education. “But, if you are going to participate, you have to know about it,” he said.

With Chao and Marisa Gustafson, the center’s assistant director, Nathan studied a random sampling of 87 districts and charter schools to see if they were complying with a 2014 state law requiring schools to provide “up to date” information on websites and in materials to parents and students in grades 8-11 about PSEO.

He shared the findings with the leaders of state education groups and with state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, in advance of the report’s release, and he plans to review websites again in December to see if districts are supplying the information. If they come up short, he said, he may push for new legislation in 2016 to strengthen the requirements.

Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, wrote in an e-mail that he did not believe the 2014 law was as specific or as detailed as the Center for School Change would suggest. He added that his group planned to share the report with superintendents of its 199 member school districts and that they would be “encouraging them to proactively provide information on their websites regarding PSEO.”

Mariani plans to contact the Minnesota Department of Education to “see what the holdup is” in terms of getting the word out about program changes, “and what, if anything, it may require from the Legislature.”

As to why a district might not trumpet newer PSEO features, Nathan noted that dollars follow the students, meaning a portion of the revenue they generate goes to the college or university they’re attending, instead of staying in the district. Mariani, too, referred to old battles and concerns over whether PSEO “would destroy public K-12 education.” But, he said, the slow response might simply be due to inadequate resources.

To read the report, go to:

tinyurl.com/PSEO-info

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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