MN legislation would let more students earn dual credit

I've been seeing several pieces of legislation going around that are trying to broaden the state Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program.

One bill I'm focusing on is by a bipartisan group of state senators led by Republican Gen Olson of Minnetrista. She wants to open up the program to younger students, give them more college choices and make it easier to market the program to them.

(Dig past the first few sections until you come to Sect. 3, Subd. 5. )

The bill contains ideas from a recent report put out by Joe Nathan of Macalester College's Center for School Change, which MPR's Tom Weber reported on earlier this year.

The bill would make the following four main changes:

1) Make it easier for 9th- and 10-graders to take college classes.

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Holly Marsh, a senior at Avalon High School in St. Paul, told legislators at a hearing last week that they shouldn't count out younger students. She told them:

"People do have concerns that 9th- and 10th-graders aren't mature enough to handle being in an environment with college-age students. For those of us who are mature enough and are prepared, it can be a very, very good opportunity."

2) Allow students to receive both high school and college credit -- not just one or the other.

Curt Johnson, a senior fellow at The Center for Policy Studies in St. Paul who helped prepare the legislation, says credit for both is technically prohibited. But a number of schools ignore that and give it anyway.

He told lawmakers at the hearing:

"Let's put into law what is sensible practice, and get rid of that fiction."

3) Allow colleges to advertise the program, which they're not allowed to do now.

That seems strange one to me. But supporters of the legislation say K-12 officials asked for the prohibition years ago, citing worries that a flood of students to college through PSEO would take money away from the district.

School districts say the program in question hurts them financially. That's because when a student enrolls in a college course, the money that a district would have received for that student's class goes to the college, not the high school.

For example, last year the Anoka-Hennepin School District lost more than $2 million in state funding when more than 500 of its students enrolled in the program. Most took a few classes, but almost four in 10 went to college full time.

Johnson acknowledges school districts' concern, but says that shouldn't hold back gifted students. He told me:

"K-12 as an enterprise has got to learn to manage its budget the same way that the Walmarts and the Targets have to react if more people go to Costco."

4) Allow students to attend classes out of state or online. The institutions would have to be accredited, however. Johnson has testified to this, but I'm trying to find the lines that discuss or imply that.

A similar bill by Olson, being discussed today, affects vocational-technical programs.

It's still unclear how the various pieces of legislation will be synthesized and reconciled. The house and Senate versions differ in a number of ways. Each chamber should be coming out with its omnibus higher-ed bill this week, so I'll see what it has done with the various pieces.