Editorial: Expand college access for high-schoolers

Published 9:39 am Monday, March 12, 2012

Minnesota was first in the nation, in 1985, with legislation that allowed high-school students to save time and money by earning college credits that count toward their high-school diplomas.

Success stories over the years include the St. Paul student who completed 60 college credits while at Harding High School, saving, he estimated, up to $40,000 in tuition and books. Tony Vang — profiled in material from the Macalester College-based Center for School Change — expected to graduate from college two years after completing high school.

Legislators this session can do right by many more Minnesota students — and they should — with passage of bills that would expand access to such programs and make it easier for students and their parents to learn about dual-credit options.

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With college costs rising faster than the rate of inflation, students and their families will thank lawmakers. Ultimately, others may thank them, too, if such programs help close the achievement gap between white students and their peers of color.

A bill in the Minnesota Senate, for example, opens college opportunities to younger high school students, ninth- and 10th-graders, and those who may not meet current academic cutoffs — opportunities considered especially meaningful for low-income or first-generation college students who might not see themselves as college bound.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in January visited Irondale High school in New Brighton, home of a program designed to give a broader array of students access to college classes.

“I love the early-college program,” Duncan said, because it is not just for the “high fliers” who excel in school but also for students who might be in the middle of their class or even at risk of dropping out, the Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan reported.

Broader access to dual-credit options could spur “academic momentum” for students “on the edge,” says Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change and a co-author of a recent report on the programs.

The report recaps research showing that students who take college-level courses while in high school do better in college.

Although the number of Minnesota high school students dropped by more than 13,000 since 2006, the number participating in dual-credit programs rose in all areas, except Post-Secondary Enrollment Options, in which students attend college classes on a university campus.

Other programs include Concurrent Enrollment, with courses taught on the high school campus by qualified high school teachers; Advanced Placement, with college-level courses taught by a teacher at the high school and credit earned by passing an exam; and International Baccalaureate programs in which students must complete IB courses and pass an exam to receive and IB diploma and college credit.

Proposed legislation also would strike from current law language that prevents colleges from advertising the advantages of the programs to high school students, making the options and their benefits clearer to students and parents, especially low-income and minority families.

It’s understandable that some administrators and school boards are cautious about the programs and expanding them. Dollars, after all, follow the student. For students who want a jump-start on college, though, difficulty for the system is well worth the effort. We hope our legislators agree.

— St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 6

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