Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Save students costs, licensing bill

Senators learn of ways to save students cost
The Higher Education Budget and Policy Division hearing yesterday focused on discussion of post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) and higher education's efforts to help students graduate in four years.

Cyndy Crist, system director for P-16 collaboration, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities began the testimony outlining the history of the PSEO program. Crist said the program was established in 1985 as the first state-wide dual credit program in the nation. The program provides both high school and college credit, Crist said. She said the program provides tuition-free college level learning opportunities for high school juniors and seniors. Crist said the colleges and universities determine the admissions standards, the space available and require completion of a placement test before enrolling.

Crist said initially, PSEO was limited to high school students taking courses on college or university campuses, but was later changed to allow concurrent enrollment courses which is defined as a college or university course taught in the high school by a high school teacher with a college or university faculty partner/mentor to provide guidance and quality assurance.

Crist said all 32 institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system enroll students in some form of PSEO. She said participation rates vary by location, but that most students are in Greater Minnesota. She said 21,655 students are participating in courses such as English, Mathematics, Social Science and Physical Science.

Members also heard about the Discovery Academy, a partnership between St. Cloud Technical College and seven high schools including Sartell High School. Sandra Fabian, associate dean of academic and innovative partnerships at St. Cloud Technical College, told members that the Discovery Academy has 23 courses available to PSEO students at the seven high schools. The program gives students an opportunity to explore career opportunities and empowers students to achieve at the college level and make informed decisions about their next steps. Brenda Steve, principal at Sartell High School explained the benefits of the program to the committee. Steve said that the mentoring that goes on between college faculty and high school teachers is invaluable and improves the quality of teaching.

Also testifying with an example of a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities PSEO initiative was Jill Abbott, associate dean of academic and student services at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Abbott explained the Online College in the High School program. Abbott said the program offers courses to public high school students in a distance learning format. The program allows students to remain in their high school building while they access online, college level courses. There are four participating colleges and universities in the program; Alexandria Technical College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota. Inger Wegener, career and technical education specialist with Lakes Country Service Cooperative told committee members that the program has provided opportunities to students that previously did not exist.

The committee shifted gears and talked about efforts to help students in college graduate in four years. Sally Johnstone, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Winona State University, told members about a four year graduation guarantee that began in 1984. If a student follows the framework laid out, they will graduate in four years or the university will pick up the cost. This means that students must be highly motivated and cannot change majors mid-way through college. There was discussion about why students separate from the four-year track and Johnstone said the main reason is 60-70 percent of students change their major. Johnstone said students are also working more so it takes longer to get through school.

K-12 licensing standards discussed in House
The House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee heard yesterday about a plan supported by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to tighten teacher licensure standards. Under the governor's proposals, aspiring teachers would be required to pass their pre-professional skills test, known as “PPST” or Praxis I, before they enter a teacher training program. Current practice is to allow entry into teacher programs even if they fail the test, though they must eventually pass it in order to be licensed. Additionally, the governor's plan, part of his proposed "Teacher Transformation Act," would raise the minimum passing score on the Praxis II certification exam teachers take to gain licensure, and also put an increased emphasis on technology skills.

Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Karen Klinzing said the proposals would ensure that people who lack the basic skills to be effective teachers are eliminated from teacher training programs up front.

Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna, questioned whether the PPST is really useful in determining who will make a good teacher, noting that some teacher candidates who fail the exam ultimately earn good reviews from their supervisors in the training programs.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, asked whether it would be better to focus on getting as many new teachers into the field as possible at first and then cut some from the programs later if they are not effective. No action was taken.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

No comments: