Legislators, listen to higher ed leaders’ blast of HLC


Legislators, listen to higher ed leaders’ blast of HLC

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

As state and national legislators meet this year, I hope they’ll consider the unusually strong, recent criticism of the Higher Learning Commission from Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, and Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and University System.

Though many college grad students and faculty do not have a master’s degree (including faculty at St. Olaf, whose president chairs the HLC), the commission is demanding that high school faculty who teach college-level courses have a master’s in their fields or a master’s in teaching and 18 additional credits.

At a Dec. 18 P-20 Council meeting, Kaler described the HLC’s requirement as “ludicrous.” Rosenstone called them “intolerable and incomprehensible.” But they aren’t challenging the HLC. That’s in part because Congress gave the HLC the power to accredit colleges and universities in 19 states, including Minnesota. Without accreditation, colleges and universities can’t receive various federal funds.

In testimony at a Minnesota legislative hearing, HLC President Barbara Gellman-Danley offered no research to support the HLC’s demands.

Jeff McGonigal, Anoka-Hennepin School District associate superintendent, testified that the district currently has 28 teachers offering concurrent enrollment courses to 1,618 juniors and seniors – “Only five of those teachers meet HLC’s demands for credentials.” Anoka-Hennepin’s program has saved high school seniors more than $3.4 million over the last four years. McGonigal noted the change would cost district families up to $1.9 million just this year if the requirement were in effect now.

Jon Peterson, St. Paul Public Schools’ office of college and career readiness director, pointed out that for every dollar the district invested in concurrent enrollment courses, families saved $12.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, wrote that the HLC’s requirement “is a bit like a healthy patient with no sickness or malady being prescribed a treatment that has dangerous side effects to treat a nonexistent condition.”

State Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, believes the HLC’s demand “will create a major barrier for high school students to earn college credit.” He wrote: “For 30 years Minnesota has developed and invested in concurrent enrollment programs, creating pathways for students to a postsecondary education. During the 2014-2015 school year, this investment resulted in 24,731 Minnesota students enrolled in concurrent enrollment courses (up 40 percent since 2007), 208,629 college credits earned, saving families an estimated $38.7 million in college tuition costs.”

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, explained: “I left our hearing with an appreciation of how impactful concurrent enrollment is in our rural schools and how devastating, if implemented, the change could be for those schools in particular. … Our students’ success depends on their ability to access higher education at an affordable price in an approachable manner.”

St. Olaf College President and HLC board chair David Anderson has declined comment about the fact that several St. Olaf teaching faculty don’t have a master’s degree. St. Olaf also has one of Minnesota’s least accepting policies toward credit for Advanced Placement, Postsecondary Enrollment Options, and College in the Schools. Many institutions grant up to two years of credit; St. Olaf grants less than a year.

Nelson cited research at the hearing: “Students taking concurrent enrollment graduate at higher rates from high school, … earn higher GPAs and graduate from college quicker and with less student debt than their peers. … Dual enrollment helps close the achievement gap. What good can come out of this ill-advised, data-void, expensive new standard?”

I hope legislators consider:

–Asking the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to apply for delayed implementation of the HLC’s requirements for five years. Faced with protests from several states, the HLC offers this option.

–Urging Congress to hold hearings. The HLC’s power comes from Congress. Congress should investigate interference in schools from a group that is not elected and not accountable to the public. (Both U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have criticized the HLC. I hope other members of Congress will join them, asking for hearings.)

–Creating a committee of high school and college faculty to examine ways that high school faculty can be given credit toward a master’s degree for past work with students, workshops and other experience.

–Asking the Office of Higher Education to publicize the different policies that various Minnesota Colleges and Universities have toward dual credit. Families need to know, for example, that St. Olaf is far less receptive to dual credit than most other Minnesota colleges and universities.

Minnesotans recognize the huge problem of college debt and immense value of earning a one-, two- or four-year postsecondary certificate or degree. So I urge readers to tell state and national legislators what they think.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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