"PSEO AND MINNESOTA OPTIONS PROGRAMS"
PSEO AND MINNESOTA LEARNING OPTIONS PROGRAMS December 13, 2005 THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND A POSSIBLE FUTURE THE PAST: Up to six years ago the relationship with learning options programs and the PSEO institutions was deplorable. Many students were routinely refused even consideration for participation in college classes. Typical reactions from colleges were that the student did not have a class rank, could not be considered unless from a regular high school, learning options students are not college material, a certain grade point average is required, and so on. One special education student was originally denied application with such a derogatory comment that an MDE PSEO contact person questioned if the students civil rights may have been violated. Six years ago the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) along with Dr. Joe Nathan from the Center for School Change, made contact with the MNSCU Chancellor’s office to clarify PSEO policy and procedure. Cynthia Crist from the Chancellor’s office discussed the concerns with learning options staff, and appeared at the annual MAAP State Conference (600 attendees) to take input. From that point forward, relationships between the learning options and the colleges have improved. THE PRESENT: PRESENT SUCCESS: We are pleased to report that at present, there seems to be a good relationship between the learning options programs and the colleges. There have been few complaints brought forward about the colleges either denying learning options student’s access, or extraneous hurdles placed in the way of students attempting access. The learning options programs report that they generally have a good relationship with the college admissions representative; that the enrollment process is smooth to very easy; and that, for those programs who measure success, the success rate is an estimated average of 70% completion once a student is enrolled. (A range of a low of 30% to a high of 100%). One self contained special education program has enrolled thirteen students whose high school GPA was about 1.5 upon entry into the high school program, and upon completion of the post secondary experience had a collective college GPA of about 3.25. Comments heard in general are of the nature that the college option is “good for students”, “a great option” or “should be more available”. PRESENT CONCERNS: RELATIONSHIPS TENUOUS - Although many learning options program staff report a good relationship with the admissions representative, this relationship must be renewed if a new admissions representative comes on the scene. Would a more definite written policy on admissions procedures for learning options students be helpful? This could be jointly drafted by MNCSU and MAAP representatives. LACK OF AWARNESS - Some learning options program staff are unaware of the availability of the college option or how it works, and some high school counselors/administrators believe that learning options students are not eligible for college options. Could wider information about the college option be publicized? Possibly a joint statement of the option could be made by the Chancellor, The MDE commissioner and the President of MAAP and sent to all learning options teachers and administrators. MAAP would publish such a statement in its newsletter, and present it at regional meetings, conferences, workshops, and staff development presentations throughout the year. The Chancellor is welcome to make a presentation at the MAAP Annual State Conference. A NEED TO SUPPORT STUDNETS AND THE LOSS OF MONEY – The transition to the college option may be difficult for students whose academic preparation and self-image have been damaged because of negative life experiences. It is difficult financially for an options program to offer close-in support for students enrolling in college. The foundation aid is reduced from the program, limiting the availability of program staff for such a purpose. However, it should be noted that there is a difference between what MDE withholds from the program and what it pays to the college. There is a surplus of money retained by MDE which we understand is returned to the general treasury of the State Of Minnesota. If this is true, could some of that money be used by programs to better support students in the college option? This gives rise to the concept of “Contract for Services”. Some learning option programs simply write a purchase order to the college for a student’s tuition and books. In many instances, this is less costly than the loss of foundation aid through the formal PSEO process. Any extra money retained in this manner can then be put to a more productive use such as providing close-in support to students attending the college option. We believe the money flow in the PSEO process should be studied to determine if there are more efficient ways to utilize those dollars. A POSSIBLE FUTURE: A question that any high quality system must ask itself is “Are we relevant to the needs of today’s customers?” Minnesota’s education system serves many customers. Two of the segments of our customer base are students and the business community. College can indeed be a valuable experience in preparing a student for a desirable life and fruitful employment. It is however, not the only option to that end. THE TRADES - The facts of life are that some students experience great difficulty learning in a classroom setting, and some students are simply sick of school or want to, or need to, secure a job as quickly as possible. Indeed, there are many students who need to work while in high school to support their family. College simply is not an option, or at least a desirable option. Combine these student facts of life with the observations of a business community that says there are not enough new people entering the highly skilled trades – a fact of business life that could seriously stall business productivity and the financial infrastructure of the state. Most of the highly skilled trades – carpenters, cement masons, low voltage electricians, brick masons, plasters, laborers, and others – have some very excellent training centers. Consideration should be given to extending PSEO to the trades. Students could gain excellent and needed skills while initiating into an apprenticeship program and a wage earning job, possibly while still in high school. Making a Trades PSEO a reality will call for addressing state and federal child labor laws as well as enlisting a partnership with the unions and business owners in Minnesota. Not an easy task, but one that is well worth the effort. AN INTEMEDIATE STEP Between the level of immediate work and a full blown college degree, more consideration should be given to the certificate or short duration training courses – ten to twenty weeks- that help students enter the work force just above entry level jobs. This type of training, and the resultant jobs, can keep students engaged with training institutions and help more students generate income to care for their families and further their education. Students, once familiar with a college, may be more apt to return for advance training. If they can’t survive financially, attending or returning to college becomes a more remote possibility. This could also be an excellent avenue for our many limited English speaking immigrants to be introduced to college and a living wage. An example program to look at may be Summit Academy OIC in Minneapolis. THE CHANCELLOR’S STRATEGIC PLAN - There is almost universal unawareness of the MNSCU Strategic Plan. Those who have read it believe there is great wisdom in the parts of the plan calling for greater collaboration for a K-16 education system. We believe that PSEO or some future permutation of that law can play a significant role in that vision. It seems that the Strategic Plan calls for a greater professional relationship between the colleagues of the “K-12 system” and the “college system”. We are all serving the same students with a similar aim. We should be working together and the creativity of both worlds should be tapped. It is important to MAAP that all students be included in any K-16 system. It seems a natural possibility that the liberal arts and technical components of the college system can be united with the needs of the high school students, the business community and the unions to build a system that will pull students into good paying jobs. That is an attraction that will benefit all. Respectfully submitted, Terry Lydell President-Elect Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs