Don't jeopardize jump-start on college
The goal is ensuring the same quality instruction whether a student earning college credits is doing so while still in high school or while at college.
The problem is there seems to be little or no evidence to suggest high school students participating in Minnesota's popular and hugely successful College in the Schools (CITS) program are being shortchanged in any way when it comes to the quality of instruction. They get better grades overall, almost always graduate, and go on to college more often than their classmates.
Post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) is an alternative for some students but that often means going to a college campus and leaving behind some of the high school experience. School districts want these students to remain on campus, and not necessarily leave for PSEO. These students, for the most part, are a school district's top students.
Park Rapids currently offers 11 college courses to high school students for a total of 34 credits. Last year, 68 juniors and seniors completed a total of 925 college semester credits and saved $304,118 in college tuition.
Gary Gauldin, Park Rapids Area Schools board member, has been a long-time advocate for College in the Schools. He's outspoken and is gaining influence on the state level. Gauldin recently participated in the Minnesota School Boards Association's Delegate Assembly where he joined 142 public school board members from across the state who debated and voted on legislative resolutions to help set MSBA's legislative agenda for the 2017 session.
Included in that agenda is to review decisions by MnSCU with regard to college affordability and to consider funding other Minnesota state colleges and universities to replicate 18 Online for statewide access by dual credit concurrent enrollment high school teachers.
College in the Schools is important, as is having qualified teachers teaching the classes. It's an opportunity for high school students to excel and get ahead of the tuition game prior to going to college.
In 2012-13, as one bit of evidence, nearly 95 percent of high school students who took classes that earned them college credits graduated, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. That's almost 20 percentage points better than Minnesota's overall graduation rate.
So placing more stringent teaching requirements on CITS instructors seems as unnecessary as it is certain to threaten a program that gives students a jump-start on their higher education, lowers their student loan debt and improves their prospects for the future.
The more stringent teaching requirements were approved early in 2015, however, by the Higher Learning Commission, an accreditor of universities and colleges in 19 states, including Minnesota. The requirements are poised to go into effect next school year, specifying that CITS instructors hold master's degrees or have 18 graduate-level credits in the subjects they're teaching — even though most of the teachers already have graduate-level degrees and even though their students have been achieving at high levels for the three decades the program has been around.
It could kill CITS programs in many schools.
There is hope, thankfully, for the tens of thousands of Minnesota high school students who take CITS classes every year.
Teachers can prove they have "tested experience," or practical working knowledge beyond the classroom, to comply with the new guidelines.
The colleges and universities that issue the credits can apply for a five-year extension to meeting the new guidelines. That could buy time to find reasonable ways for teachers to get the qualifications they need or for the requirements to be reconsidered.
Another option is for the Higher Learning Commission to simply back away from its new requirements. It could reconsider their necessity. It could at least better explain the problem the new requirements were put in place to solve.
The requirements certainly seem to lack justification. At a joint Minnesota House and Senate higher education committee hearing last year, the Higher Learning Commission said it had no research to support the new requirements, according to the Duluth News Tribune's story. The newspaper cited as its source Joe Nathan, director for the Center for School Change in St. Paul.
"This (program) is one of the best ideas Minnesota has had," Nathan told the newspaper. "It's very clear that making more use of CITS will help increase graduation rates and decrease college debt. ... So people are really upset."
People should be upset. Those students, especially, who are willing to work hard for the benefits of higher education and their parents who are constantly on the hunt for ways to make college more affordable — or, sometimes, even just realistic. One of Minnesota's best ideas can't be allowed to be derailed.