Career and College Readiness

How Minnesota Got Here on Concurrent Enrollment

By September 27, 2015 No Comments

By Fred Nolan, PhD, MREA Executive Director

Minnesota over the past 25 years has experienced both an explosion of K-12 teachers with general curriculum and instruction masters degrees and simultaneously an accelerating explosion of dual credit, concurrent courses in high schools taught by teachers with these masters degrees under the auspices and blessings of Minnesota’s public colleges and universities.

In my career, I have participated in both sides of these trends.

As superintendent of Eden Valley-Watkins Schools from 1995-2002, I worked with the faculty and high school principal to expand a short list of three courses with two teachers into a full year of credits (32) in six different disciplines.

How It Worked

In the process, teachers who taught Minnesota State College & Universities (MNSCU) institution courses had to meet initially with the department of the MNSCU institution. The purpose was very clear. Was the teacher sufficiently competent in the discipline to be considered as a member of the MNSCU institution’s department?

If the answer was ‘yes,’ then contracts between Eden Valley-Watkins (EV-W) and the MNSCU institution were developed and signed, and arrangement was made for the EV-W faculty and the MNSCU faculty for induction, training and support to deliver the MNSCU course. More support was provided in year one than in subsequent years, but the arrangement was continued past year one only when the MNSCU faculty member was satisfied as to the quality of the student learning as evidenced on the common exams.

Teachers who taught CIS course with the University of Minnesota added summer institutes with other teachers of that course and U of M faculty in that department. These were considered very valuable, and over time EV-W assumed more of the teachers’ expenses to attend these summer sessions. Again contracts were exchanged stipulating the responsibilities of EV-W and the U of M.

Why It Works

For EV-W and other rural schools, concurrent enrollment is the most effective and efficient way for students to experience the rigor of college level courses, earn credits for free, and participate in all the high school sports, activities and rituals with their classmates that build bonds that last a lifetime.

PSEO or online courses have large negatives for rural students, families and schools in comparison. Hence the explosion of rural concurrent enrollment.

At the same time, I was the facilitator of Learning Community Master’s Program for 32 K-12 teachers and was a member of Southwest State University Graduate Education Faculty in 1997 and 1998. This was a weekend cohort program open to teachers in West Central Minnesota. Private colleges had been doing these for a least a decade by then and Southwest State University (as SMSU was titled then), was responding to this market.

The intention of this role was to help as many of the 32 teachers as possible become master teachers with a desire to continually improve and earn a Master’s Degree in the process. The cohort met in Willmar for two years and never set foot on the Marshall campus.

All the students got exactly the same credits and courses on their transcripts. A significant portion of the credits were to find readings and research relevant to their teaching assignments and to do an action research project.

Looking Forward

Occasionally I run into a former student who is successfully teaching, and one is a current Minnesota school superintendent.

My Ph.D. is in educational administration, not in curriculum and instruction. That didn’t seem to bother Southwest State in 1997.

This and similar cohort models have been replicated countless times across Minnesota and now have morphed into blended online and face-to-face programs.

They work efficiently for the universities —you can gather up students from multiple backgrounds and hire a generalist (like me) to facilitate and teach.

They work for the teachers because most, if not all, Minnesota schools accept these curriculum and instruction masters as germane and eligible for salary advancement.