‘Awesome,’ ‘amazing’ dual-credit courses may be spreading / Joe Nathan’s Column

Joe Nathan

“Amazing,” “wonderful” and “great” are how high school graduates have described dual-credit classes (high school and college credit) they took on their high school campus. If bills currently in the Minnesota House and Senate are adopted, there would be many more such courses all over the state.

House File 1217 and Senate File 995 (companion bills) have encouraging bipartisan support and the support of groups that didn’t always agree in the past. But nothing is certain at the Legislature, so people who like students earning free college credit via courses offered in high school may want share their support of these bills with legislators.

Students from Princeton and Eagan high schools recently testified in the House and Senate, describing how they felt about these courses.

Princeton High School seniors Libby Morton (left) and Winter Manisto-Saari, with Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, (the chief author of a House bill related to dual-credit courses), and Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe, spoke at the Capitol March 3 about dual-credit courses. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Libby Morton and Winter Manisto-Saari from Princeton High School rose early on March 3, a very snowy morning, so they could be at the Minnesota House by 8 a.m. Morton explained that taking dual-credit courses at her high school was “a great thing,” allowing her to challenge herself, earn college credit and stay involved in other high school activities. Manisto-Saari called her college level courses “absolutely phenomenal.”

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe talked about the bills’ possible benefits.

“The funding would really help us in that we could try to recruit additional students to take concurrent classes,” she said. “Every section that we can add will be helpful in assisting students to look beyond high school graduation into their future. It also engages students in a rigorous curriculum. … That is a plus.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who chairs the committee where the students testified, praised them for their “insight and eloquence.”

Eagan High School seniors Megan Lough and Bianca Nkwonta and CIS teacher Rita Anderson (center) talk about dual-credit courses March 5 at the Capitol. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

On March 5, teacher Rita Anderson and Megan Lough and Bianca Nkwonta, seniors at Eagan High School, testified in a Minnesota Senate committee.

Anderson has taught a College in the Schools course for 27 years. She praised collaboration with the University of Minnesota that has produced the course as “amazing professional development.” She loves meeting with university and other high school faculty to discuss how the course is taught.

Lough, described new college opportunities in Iowa “that have opened up because I took College in the Schools.” Nkwonta called taking college-level courses in high school “the best of both worlds.”

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, the Senate bill’s chief author, praised the teacher and students for their hard work.

The bills:

–Expand opportunities for ninth- and 10th-graders to take concurrent enrollment courses in high school if the high school and college faculty think the students are ready.

–Provide funds to help start new dual-credit courses, including funds to help more faculty take courses needed so colleges will allow them to teach the courses.

–Include some funds targeted at increasing career and technical dual-credit courses.

–Help community groups share information about these courses.

Both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, MnSCU, have developed cooperative courses with Minnesota high schools. The Minnesota Department of Education found that students who take these courses graduate from high school at a rate that, depending on the group, is between 10 and 39 percent higher than students who don’t take such courses. Experience shows that even students who have not done well can succeed in college-level courses geared to their individual interests.

All of this led the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the Minnesota Rural Education Association and the Center for School Change, where I work, to help develop and support the bills. We haven’t always agreed, but on this, we do.

A University of Minnesota survey of more than 800 participants found that 85 percent said as a result of taking the courses they were “better prepared academically for college.” Dual credit is a wonderful gift to Minnesota students and families. Or, as students in the University of Minnesota survey put it, these courses can be “awesome, fantastic, tough and wonderful!”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.