In 1985, Minnesota passed a law to allow high school kids to start taking college courses in the 11th grade. Students across the state started earning credits that added up to entire years’ worth of college tuition, sparing themselves a ton of debt. Schools foot the bill.
Some “dual credit” courses are taught by high school teachers who are trained by college professors. Others are taught by college faculty, either on the college campus or via the internet.
The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) both offer dual credit programs. MnSCU’s is the larger by far, awarding about three-fourths of the credits in Minnesota.
This year, MnSCU is considering two drastic modifications to its dual credit program. First, it’s going to require all high school faculty teaching these courses to have masters degrees. Second, it’s raising the standard fee per course to $3,000 over the next six years. Currently, the cost per course for some schools is as low as $1,500, with variations by school.
Both of these changes could result in huge expenses for schools across the state, according to a letter written by an unlikely coalition of 33 education leaders representing the interests of district, charter, urban, rural, and tribal schools.
Some schools won’t be able to afford the new fees. Others will find it impossible to meet the teacher requirements. For example, a high school might want to offer a dual credit course in Ojibwe, but there are no masters programs for Ojibwe.
“We know of youngsters who changed their self-concept and aspirations after successful participation in concurrent enrollment courses offered in cooperation with your institutions,” according to the letter. “We believe that expanding and refining concurrent enrollment courses can help increase Minnesota high school and MnSCU graduation rates. However, a number of Minnesota K-12 leaders believe that significant price increases will make offering these courses more difficult.”
They cite MnSCU’s own statistics on the benefits of dual credit courses in high school:
• 58 percent of African Americans graduated from high school in four years, but that leaps to 88 percent for those who took at least one college credit course. • 49 percent of American Indian students graduated in four years, but compared to 88 percent of for dual-credit participants. • 78 percent of Asian Americans graduated in four years, compared to 96% of those who participated in these dual credit programs. • 59 percent of Hispanic students graduated in four yeas, compared to 93 percent of college participants.
The price hikes could mean that American Indian schools based on reservations in rural Minnesota frankly won’t be able to afford dual credit programs anymore, says Elaine Salinas of Migizi Communications, a Native education advocacy organization.
"My personal thing is that when Minnesota started adopted school choice, dual enrollment, and all these different options, I was over there lending my voice to advocating for these things because I thought they’d be very good for students," Salinas says. "Now to see these kind of proposals being put forward to limit these opportunities, it’s very troubling."
MnSCU was discreet about its plans. A leaked April 18 memo from Ron Anderson, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, shows that MnSCU decided to pursue these changes in February 2015. No high schools were consulted or warned.
MnSCU chancellor Steven Rosenstone responded to the high school educators' letter on Friday, explaining that his network needs more money to cover costs.
"Further, the fully phased-in 2022 pricing structure for colleges that allows us to cover our direct costs will still be $1,300 less than the cost of classes for 30 students offered by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ College in the Schools program in 2016," Rosenstone wrote.
It's not clear why the programs should cost MnSCU so much when high school teachers are the ones teaching them, says Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change. He's also not convinced that MnSCU is really so broke that it needs to raise fees to the point that some high schools won't be able to purchase courses for their students at all.
The Minnesota legislature appropriated $17 million to MnSCU in 2015.