New regulations jeopardize free college credit classes offered in high schools

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Thousands of Minnesota high school students have been able to lower the skyrocketing cost of college by taking classes in their high schools that allow them to earn college credit for free.

Some of those classes, known as College in the Schools, may be threatened. New standards would bar many teachers who have been working as instructors in the classes, which allow students to simultaneously accumulate high school and college credit at no charge. Without teachers, the school districts would struggle to offer the option.

The Pioneer Press reports that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is changing the standards that qualify teachers. The HLC accredits nearly 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 Midwestern states including 114 in Minnesota, where 24,731 students took dual-credit classes in 2014.

The courses are monitored by local universities or colleges. The Legislature approved more than $4 million this year to expand dual-enrollment classes.

The Star Tribune's story explained that the new policy would require teachers to hold a master’s degree or graduate-level credits in the subjects they teach, making hundreds of them ineligible to teach college-level high school classes.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told the Pioneer Press this could make it more difficult for school district's to find qualified teachers.

Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change, also objected to the change. “We are talking about cutting off the program completely or spending millions on trying to get teachers in compliance,” Nathan told the Star Tribune.

The dual-credit classes have been a boon to poor, minority and first-generation college students by exposing them to college. The Rochester Post-Bulletin added that the regulations would disproportionately hurt smaller, more rural districts that don't have a college nearby for students who want to take college classes through the Post Secondary Enrollment Option.

"We're frantically working with our staff to come up with a solution for this," said Jeff Elstad, superintendent of schools in the Byron district. HLC President Barbara Gellman-Danley said the new standards are meant to ensure that dual-credit courses are taught at the highest level.

The new standards are set to go into place in 2017. Cassellius said that's not enough time for hundreds of teachers who've been involved in the program to get the tougher credentials.

“I just don’t know how our more experienced teachers are going to be able to afford it,” she said.

The HLC's Gellman-Danley disagreed, saying there's time to comply with the new rules, adding that the HLC can grant a two-year extension, if necessary.

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