January is a great month to save money on college costs

This column appeared in an number of ECM/Sun Current newspapers in January, 2018.

January is a great month to save money

January is a great month for students and families to save thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. I’m not talking about discounts available on various consumer products.

Many Minnesota eighth- through 11th-graders will register in January for their 2018-19 school year classes. Minnesota has terrific options, outlined below, that allow these students to take college-level classes at their high schools, on college campuses and online.

Wise youngsters will sign up for one or more classes that can earn them free, or virtually free, college credit. Doing so has many benefits beyond money. The Center for School Change (where I work) website includes research showing that many students taking one or more high school-college dual-credit courses develop what studies call “academic momentum.” Students have strong skills, more confidence and greater drive. This helps:

–Increase the likelihood that students will graduate from high school.

–Increase the likelihood that students will not just enter some form of postsecondary education but earn a certificate or diploma. That expands their job and career options.

–Reduce the need for students to take remedial courses in college.

That research is here: http://bit.ly/2CuV3KZ.

Among the options available in Minnesota include:

–Advanced Placement courses, offered in high schools. Depending on students’ skills, they may be permitted to take such courses as early as the ninth grade. The amount of credit earned will depend on how well a student does on a final test administered by the College Board, a national group that creates and monitors AP. There’s no cost for the class but a charge for taking the exam.

–College in the Schools/Concurrent Enrollment, offered in high schools in cooperation with various Minnesota colleges and universities. Students who pass these courses receive college credit at many colleges and universities. State law permits students starting in the ninth grade to take these courses if both the high school and college believe students are ready. There is no cost to students for these classes.

–International Baccalaureate courses, offered in high schools. Generally, these courses are offered to high school juniors and seniors. There are two levels of courses. Many colleges award credit to students who score well on the final examination. There’s no charge for the course but a modest charge for taking the final exam.

–Project Lead the Way, a national program that offers college-level courses at various grades in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Again, no cost, but there’s a modest charge for taking the final exam.

–Postsecondary Enrollment Options allows students, starting in the 10th grade, to take courses either on college campuses or online. A 2017 change in the PSEO law requires high schools to offer space and technology for students who want to take online PSEO courses. PSEO courses are available in applied, technical fields and in more traditional academic areas. There is no charge to take the courses. Transportation funds are available to help students from low-income families participate. These courses are available to all Minnesota students who can meet entrance requirements of the college or university they want to attend.

–College Level Exam Program allows high schools students of various grades to earn credit by passing an exam in 33 areas. There is a cost for the test.

–Early/Middle College Program: This is the newest option. Some high schools have created collaborative programs on college campuses for students who may not qualify for traditional PSEO courses. There is no charge for participating students of various grades. More than 60 of these programs have been created throughout the state.

Minnesota Department of Education offers information about many of these programs here: http://bit.ly/2EPlhWS. The Center for School Change also offers a one page summary: http://bit.ly/1KcRbI3.

At the Legislature’s request, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education studied dual credit acceptance policies at Minnesota colleges and universities. MOHE’s detailed report is available here: http://bit.ly/2qfkMlH.

Many high school students will find dual-credit classes are quite challenging. Please consider this when deciding how many you want to take.

Nevertheless, there are many benefits. A national study published in 2017 found that the average Minnesota college loan is more than $31,000, which ranked sixth highest in the country. But as mentioned above, saving money isn’t the only reason for dual-credit courses.

This is the perfect month for students to consider signing up for one or more of these very valuable courses.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator and PTA president, now directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249.