“As a graduate of the PSEO Program I can honestly say that participating is one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made, and I would encourage every student to participate in this program, as the rewards are immeasurable.” Aaliyah Hodge, PSEO participant from Minneapolis who via hard work and PSEO, graduated from the University at age 19
“Many thanks to legislators for supporting, defending, and expanding awareness of the PSEO program and helping PSEO students both present and future! The elimination of the gag rule is especially important, and it is my hope that this restriction will be lifted for communication with students from all district sizes. Also very important is high schools being required to share up to date information about PSEO in its entirety. Due to the loss in funding, some MN high schools, including my home district of Dassel-Cokato, are very reluctant to let students know about PSEO and are withholding information. In my own experience, PSEO has also been a wonderful opportunity. As a high school junior and senior, I enrolled as a full time PSEO student at St. Cloud State University, taking all of my courses on campus. This May, I graduated with my Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, participating in my University Commencement before high school. Roughly, the financial savings was $16,000. By enrolling as a full-time on-campus PSEO student, I challenged myself immensely, pushed and expanded my academic limits, built lasting relationships with Professors and colleagues, and grew exponentially both personally and professionally. PSEO is an excellent opportunity for so many students.
Jack Raisanen – PSEO student from Dassel-Cokato
Fortunately, legislators mostly listened to community leaders like Hector Garcia, Dane Smith and Elyse Ruiz, and students like Sam Petrov, Cherish Kovach, Kelly Charpentier-Berg, Jack Raisanen and Aaliyah Hodge as they discussed Minnesota’s pioneering Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) law during the 2014 session, just completed. After months of debate, and on a bipartisan basis, legislators agreed with students and many community and business groups that families and students need more and more up-to-date, information.
Sam, Cherish, Aaliyah, Senator Patricia Torres-Ray, and Kelly are pictured above, testifying in the Minnesota Senate Education Policy committee.
Sam and Cherish, who are graduating from Richfield High School, Aaliyah, who graduated from St. Louis Park, and Jack, who graduated from Dassel-Cokato and earned an A.A. degree at St. Cloud State University, stressed the difficulty of obtaining accurate information from high schools about PSEO.
A May electronic newsletter from the Minnesota Association of Secondary Principals noted that the legislative discussion “seems to ignore the fact that Minnesota law already requires schools provide information to all ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders about PSEO” before March 1. Actually, state law also requires that schools provide information to eighth-graders.
But the problem is not just the inclusion of eighth-graders. Our organization, the Center for School Change, examined 94 Minnesota high school websites. As of mid-January this year, less than 10 percent of them mentioned the opportunity for 10th-graders to take a career or technical college course via PSEO. Then, sophomores earning at least a C can take additional PSEO courses. The 10th-grade option, which the Secondary Principals Association strongly opposed, was adopted in spring 2012.
Shortly after the 2012 legislative session, Minnesota’s Department of Education (MDE) sent superintendents a summary of changes in the law, including this one. MDE also held meetings around the state in the fall of 2013, urging schools to provide information about PSEO. So school districts knew about the 10th grade expansion of PSEO.
Our research also found that more than 90 percent of the high school websites (often including registration information for the 2014-15 school year) also did not mention that some PSEO courses can be taken online and that transportation funds are available to help students from low-income families get to a college campus. The Association of Secondary Principals asserted that PSEO courses are “largely available” only to students living near a postsecondary institution, apparently ignoring online PSEO courses available anywhere.
Legislators listened. High schools now must provide “up-to-date” information. Students must meet with a counselor before enrolling in PSEO.
Legislators also debated eliminating the PSEO “gag rule”: The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System sent an email explaining it felt current law prevented the system from posting information that students can save money by taking PSEO courses. The Association of Secondary Principals noted that many colleges tell students PSEO courses are free.
But there is confusion about whether PSEO can save future college costs. That’s why Kelly Charpentier-Berg, the Minnesota State College Student Association’s president, representing about 320,000 students, urged legislators to eliminate the gag rule.
Many high schools tell students about financial benefits of dual-credit courses. As Farmington’s website notes, students “can save time and money” by taking various dual-credit courses. Farmington is especially relevant because the Farmington superintendent is president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, which also opposed eliminating the gag rule.
Many groups joined students in challenging the gag rule. They included a progressive “think tank,” Growth and Justice, and a longtime public school advocacy group, Parents United, as well as the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, African American Leadership Forum, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, MinnCAN, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, Migizi Communications, Education Evolving, the Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Students First and our group.
Hector Garcia, Executive Director of the Minnesota’s Chicano Latino Affairs Council was a strong advocate of the changes, and worked relentlessly with Elyse Ruiz of his staff to help make them happen. He wrote, “The Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) is grateful for the revised PSEO language that is reflected in the approved education bill. PSEO has transforming impact in engaging Latinos to long-term education. Making this known along with its financial benefits to families and students through colleges will make access to these excellent opportunities more viable.
CLAC appreciates Senator Torres Ray, Rep. Mariani and other legislators for the paradigm shifting achievement of the bill in bringing to the fore the added value of foreign languages and culture.
CLAC invites MDE, teachers unions, nonprofits, MnSCU and others to ensure optimum implementation of this innovative bill that connects our students to the global economy.”
Dane Smith, president of the progressive “think tank” Growth and Justice communicated regularly with legislators about the value of sharing information about PSEO and other dual credit programs. Smith responded to the changes: “Everybody, but especially employers and parents and kids from low-income families and communities of color, should celebrate the advances our Legislature made in PSEO programs. Faster and smoother transitions from high school through higher education completion will be increasingly crucial for Minnesota’s economy. We need more skilled workers and citizens (and we need to reduce) the unacceptable and unsustainable racial and income disparities we see in educational attainment.”
Ultimately legislators eliminated the gag rule for students attending high schools enrolling at least 700 students grades 10-12. So the gag rule remains in effect for communication with students in most Minnesota high schools, which don’t enroll that many students.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis; Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield; Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester; Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul; Rep. Kelby Woodard and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, among others, argued for accurate information about PSEO.
PSEO is not valuable just because it helps students save money. Youngsters also are better prepared for some form of higher education by taking challenging courses, including PSEO, Advanced Placement, College in the Schools and International Baccalaureate.
Legislators did many good things in education, which I’ll describe in another column. For now, thank you to legislators who listened. If high schools cooperate, students and families will have more accurate and up-to-date information about PSEO.
Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, email@example.com