Career and College Readiness

MnSCU’s New Tuition Rate for Dual Credit Soars

By May 21, 2016 No Comments

The Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system (MnSCU) decided a month ago to adopt a uniform tuition for concurrent enrollment courses that for some high schools doubles their cost per dual credit course. MnSCU described this increase in a memo to the campus concurrent enrollment coordinators with general instructions to pass this along to the high schools. Read the memo.

The decision raises concerns since it was made without seeking input from school districts and other stakeholders outside of system offices, despite having an identified 12-member internal work group.

As a result of this lack of discussion with high school partners, intentionally or not, MnSCU is proposing a cost structure that will create a metro-rural inequity because most of our rural high school dual-credit teachers teach each course once per year, and the pricing structure is per course per mentor relationship. Resulting fees to rural schools will be higher than for metro schools.

There also is no mention of any added value and support to high school students or teachers from the college for these increase fees.

When Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change learned of this memo, he went to work contacting educators across the state to articulate the impact.  Here is his article reprinted with permission. 

100% increase in MNSCU Dual credit charges is WAY too much

The Minnesota State College and University System has unwisely and quietly decided to double the cost of many concurrent enrollment courses offered in Minnesota high schools over the next several years.

These courses, taught by high school teachers under the supervision and mentorship of MnSCU faculty, allow students to earn college credit.

Many two-year MnSCU colleges helped high schools offer these opportunities over the past 20 years, though prices varied. Many two-year colleges use the policy described by Michael Werner, academic and community outreach dean at Anoka-Ramsey Community College: The high school is charged $2,500 the first time a concurrent enrollment course is offered and $1,500 subsequent times.

The new policy requires all MnSCU two-year colleges to charge $3,000 per course. That’s double the $1,500 that many of these institutions currently charge for the second and subsequent years of the class.

Doug Anderson, MnSCU’s director of communications and media confirmed, “The new fee model will replace the current pricing model and will be phased in over a three- to five-year period beginning fiscal year 2018,” (the 2017-18 school year). MnSCU allows campuses to phase in new prices earlier.

Ironically, as it’s significantly increasing high school schools’ costs of offering two-year college courses, MnSCU announced on May 18 that it is decreasing tuition for “regular” two-year college students. Though MnSCU apparently decided to increase concurrent enrollment course costs in April, it has not issued a press release discussing this. MnSCU had not even told Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, who expressed surprise when contacted for her reaction.

Cassellius believes: “As more and more jobs require postsecondary education, the costs of higher ed increasingly present barriers to students. Any increase in costs should raise concerns and be closely examined for impacts to equitable opportunity for our diverse student body and rural small schools.”

Many district and charter leaders share my alarm. Recently, I’ve interviewed 27 of them. More than 80 percent are quite concerned about the increase.

Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen told me, “While I understand their desire to align their system, any cost increases above ‘cost of living’ puts pressure on an already stressed K-12 financial system and could lead to decreased opportunities for students.”

Cassellius recently praised Kingsland, a rural, southern Minnesota district where more than half of 11th- and 12th-graders are earning dual credit via concurrent enrollment. This spring, six Kingsland seniors (out of a graduating class of 46) earned an AA degrees. John McDonald, Kingsland superintendent, told me that the district currently pays Riverland Community College $2,000 per course. He wrote that the new charges “will make it increasingly more difficult for schools to offer concurrent courses.”

Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association agrees, and wrote, in part: “The proposed increases concern me, first because MnSCU has decided on this tuition increase without seeking any input from school districts. Districts sign ‘cooperative agreements’ to teach concurrent courses. I would have hoped for a partnership process in determining fees. Secondly, intentionally or not, MnSCU is proposing a cost structure that will create a metro-rural inequity because most of our rural high school dual-credit teachers teach each course once per year, and the pricing structure is per course per mentor relationship. … Resulting fees to rural schools will be higher than for metro schools. Lastly, there is no mention of any added value and support to high school students or teachers from the college.”

Cam Stottler, executive director of Forest Lake charter North Lakes Academy, wrote that the school offers three concurrent enrollment courses a year. He said: “It’s disappointing that the workgroup who recommended the plan didn’t involve voices and input from the high school communities who have a vested interest in concurrent enrollment options.”

The policy also creates problems for inner city schools. Jon Peterson, executive director of St. Paul Public Schools’ office of college and career readiness, believes the price changes “will create unnecessary and unwarranted barriers to our students, many of whom are of color and/or American Indian descent, gaining greater access to concurrent enrollment offerings due to less funds being available to support increased concurrent enrollment offerings.”

Four-year MnSCU state universities already charge more than two-year colleges for concurrent enrollment courses. St. Cloud State charges $3,276 per 3- or 4-credit course and Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall charges $3,000 on average per course.

The new phased-in MnSCU price for four-year universities by the 2021-2022 school year will be $3,300, a slight change. MnSCU also will allow four-year institutions to charge an additional $110 per student if there are more than 30 students in a class or if students are enrolled in additional sections of the same course.

The new policy creates special challenges for small districts and charters: Higher prices will apply to each “mentor-mentee relationship per course,” so there is no additional charge if a high school offers several sections of the same course – an approach more typical for a larger school.

Anderson wrote via email that the new pricing policy “was developed to account for all of the direct costs incurred in offering concurrent enrollment courses, and it ensures consistent business practices across our state colleges and universities.”

Consistency across a system can be valuable. A concurrent enrollment or PSEO course taught in one MnSCU institution is accepted at all MnSCU institutions. However, the dramatic mandated price increase will make offering these courses much more difficult in many communities. That’s not good for students or families.

Here are reactions from area leaders:

Jeffrey McGonigal, associate superintendent for high schools with the Anoka-Hennepin School District, stated: “A price increase would not be helpful in terms of funding this important program. However, I am aware the Minnesota public colleges and universities also have funding needs.”

Mary Morem, Caledonia Area Public Schools’ Middle/High School principal, wrote Caledonia currently pays $3,000 per course. She explained: “The increase does not impact us as it is the same as we already pay. It will impact in 2022” (when the cost is scheduled to increase).

Zena Stenvik, interim director of teaching and learning at Columbia Heights Public Schools, explained that the district is not offering any concurrent enrollment courses, but it is working with Anoka Ramsey Community College to establish a concurrent enrollment program. “Therefore, the district is not paying any fees at this time. The district will begin concurrent enrollment courses with Anoka-Ramsey Community College during the 2017-2018 school year.”

Columbia Heights was the only one of the 24 district and three charter public schools I talked with that knew about the new prices. Stenvik wrote: “Since the district has been working closely with Anoka-Ramsey Community College to create a concurrent enrollment plan, the district has been aware of the current fee structure and potential rate increases and has planned accordingly.”

Steve Massey, Forest Lake High School principal, is concerned about the proposed price increases. He told me: “Our Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment program is a critically important part of our comprehensive high school program. With budgets becoming tighter and tighter, any increase in costs for these programs creates a concern. We do appreciate the legislature’s commitment to the funds dedicated to reimburse schools for partial costs to run these important college courses.

Hopkins is one of the few districts responding that could save money under the new approach. John Schultz, Hopkins Schools superintendent, explained: “With the new pricing structure, Hopkins will see an overall reduction in costs because instead of a per section charge, it will become a per relationship (high school instructor to college instructor) charge per semester. With that change, we should see costs drop to nearly half.”

Timothy Bjorge, Little Falls High School principal, wrote: “This is the first I have heard of the proposed MnSCU increases. … Little Falls Community High School partners with Central Lakes College, and we currently pay $1,500 per course. … The plan to move the cost of CIS courses to $3,000 by 2022 will obviously double the cost of our program and force us to look at the cost-benefit ratio of CIS courses moving forward. There are too many unknown variables at this time to speculate further.”

George Weber, Pierz Public Schools superintendent, commented, in part: “From the MnSCU perspective, I understand the concept of uniformity, because it makes it easier to manage, but I do not believe in it. CIS is a very large event for some colleges and an almost non-existent event in other colleges. So why not let the individual colleges set the rate they want in order to best manage their college?”

Tim Truebenbach, Milaca Public Schools superintendent, wrote that the district is offering 14 concurrent enrollment courses. “With what we currently pay, I don’t feel the price increase will affect us too much. We generally have strong enrollment for these courses, so for the classes we pay per student, we typically are around the $3,000-$3,300 cost.”

Jim Johnson, Monticello Public Schools superintendent, wrote: “If the increases … are implemented, we would have to review the budget impact on our overall program and make a determination of what we can continue to offer. … I have no doubt that we would have to consider reducing the number of courses we offer unless the state does something to help us offset the increased cost. That means fewer options for our students at a time we are trying to make them college- and career-ready. It could be a significant step backwards for our schools, our students and our families.”

Kate Maguire, Osseo Area Schools superintendent, responding to the new MnSCU policy, the superintendent wrote: “At a time when schools are trying to increase access to postsecondary coursework in order to meet the requirements of the World’s Best Workforce legislation related to college and career readiness, an increase in costs is concerning.”

Julia Espe, Princeton Public Schools superintendent, wrote:  “I understand that MnSCU costs are rising, and I appreciate the fact that they are phasing in the costs over years. However, since our district seems to always be looking at ways to economize in order to stay fiscally sound, this is not good news for us. … Unfortunately, Princeton must look at all factors, including financing, when it comes to offering postsecondary credit in our high school program. MnSCU may be disappointed in the long-term effects of participation due to the escalating costs.”

Tom Kearney, superintendent and principal of Stillwater charter New Heights School, explained: “We do not currently offer concurrent enrollment courses. Looking at the fee structure, I believe one of the obstacles for a small school like New Heights to offer such courses is that we probably can’t afford it even if we want to participate. To me, the structure looks to be regressive, but I have limited knowledge about this type of thing. The price structure could potentially price some small schools or systems out of the opportunity.”

In a January 2016 report to its trustees, MnSCU leadership noted the system has run multimillion-dollar deficits in the past couple of years, in part because of declining enrollment. I understand the need for a balanced budget and that MnSCU has been told not to increase tuition.

But dictating price increases of up to 100 percent to already financially challenged high schools with which it is collaborating does not seem appropriate. I hope Gov. Mark Dayton and state legislators will encourage MnSCU to reconsider the size of this increase.

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