Families rightly requesting more college access information

Joe Nathan
ECM Publishers Columnist

Minnesota parents, grandparents and students have been sending me a clear message: They urgently need more information about ways to afford one-, two- and four-year college programs.

In his recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama urged, “We have to make college affordable for every student.” I agree.

First, let’s discuss the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program. This remarkable pilot program provides two years of free vocational training in “high demand” areas. It’s available for people with family incomes of $90,000 or less, including:

–Students graduating from high school in 2016.

–People completing an Adult Basic Education or a GED diploma in the 2015-16 school year.

–People completing a 12- or 24-month AmeriCorps program this year.

More information is available on the Minnesota Office of Higher Education website, http://bit.ly/1T1nSxa.

However, a Monticello high school senior told me via email recently that she had contacted several participating colleges this month, only to be told that they did not know about the program. Yikes!

When I checked websites of 10 two-year institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, aka MnSCU, during the week of Jan. 11, I was not able to find information about this remarkable program. I called three of them. They confirmed that they had not yet posted information about this.

Ginny Dobbs from MOHE, who’s coordinating the program, told me via email that she’s planned a Jan. 20 webinar for MnSCU admissions and financial aid staff to help them understand the program. That’s good. Hopefully, more information is coming soon.

A Bloomington parent wrote: “College is too expensive. Could you write more about (scholarships and grants, including the new two year public college grant)? … If you are able to write more on this topic, and send it out to local papers, many parents and high school students would thank you a million times.”

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education is Minnesota’s single best source of college access information; visit it online at http://www.ohe.state.mn.us. MOHE wisely has hired two people recently, including a person who speaks Spanish, to meet with families, students and educators around the state.

Elaine Zimmer, a Brooklyn Center mother and grandmother, wrote: “I loved your informative recent article on dual credits for high school. I have since found out that there is a fee involved at completion of these courses, and the score (1-5) may make a difference in whether the college you choose recognizes them as such. I think it would be helpful if you could expand on this.”

Per suggestions from Zimmer and others, the Center for School Change, where I worked, has created a chart comparing various forms of dual credit. It’s found here: http://bit.ly/1KcRbI3.

It shows that, for example, that some students must pay to take the final Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate examinations that lead to college credit. Others do not. The chart also shows that to receive college credit via AP and IB, students must earn a certain score on the final examination. regardless of how well they did during the semester, or yearlong course.

Along with this chart, there’s a map that Malik Bush, the Center for School Change co-director, recently refined. This is an interactive map with links to the admissions office of each Minnesota public and private nonprofit college and university. That’s here: http://bit.ly/NTP2Kq.

The map also shows colleges’ and universities’ acceptance policies regarding various forms of dual credit. Some are much more open than others. We strongly encourage people to check with the colleges or universities that interest them as these policies sometimes change.

The chart and map are worth checking before students in grades eight through 11 select next year’s courses. Many youngsters will be registering in the next month for fall 2016 courses.

Minnesota offers some of the nation’s best opportunities to be well-prepared, including earning college credits, for one-, two and four-year college and university programs. But we need to work harder to get information to families and students.

— 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 [email protected]