Proposed changes to the partnerships between Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and public schools could limit students’ ability to earn college credits at their high schools.

MnSCU wants to raise the fees schools pay to offer dual-credit courses and update how educators prove they have the skills needed to teach at the college level. A group of more than 30 school officials, education advocates and civil rights leaders recently wrote to MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone saying the changes will mean fewer options for students.

These courses allow students to earn high school and college credits at the same time and are increasingly popular, with nearly 25,000 high school students taking them in 2014 - a 23 percent increase over five years. Dual-credit classes also are seen as an important tool to increase the number of Minnesotans who have the postsecondary credentials to meet the workforce needs of the future.

Malik Bush, co-director of the education advocate the Center for School Change, said the proposed changes would disproportionately hurt first-time college students and students of color who already struggle to earn degrees. Research shows students who get an early taste of college are more likely to graduate from high school on time and succeed in college.

“It’s counterproductive and it’s inequitable,” Bush said of the proposed changes. “At the end of the day, it is not the direction MnSCU or the state should be going.”

Doug Anderson, a MnSCU spokesman, said colleges and universities that partner with high schools to offer the courses need the fee increase to cover their costs. Fees for dual-credit courses are inconsistent across the state, and MnSCU plans to increase them to $3,000 per course by 2022.

For many schools, that’s double what they pay now.

In a statement, Anderson noted that the proposed fee increase would not result in “a direct cost to students and their families” because students do not pay tuition.

NEW TEACHER STANDARDS

Updates to the credentials instructors need are necessary because of a recent policy update by the Higher Learning Commission, or HLC, which accredits nearly 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 Midwestern states, including 114 in Minnesota.

In the past, a master’s degree in education and other training was often good enough to teach many dual-credit classes, but now the HLC wants instructors to hold a graduate degree in the subject they are teaching or have a master’s degree in another field plus 18 credits in relevant subject matter.

HLC representatives insist the update is only a clarification of long-standing expectations, but the change outraged supporters of dual-credit classes across the Midwest. Last fall, HLC leaders testified before a legislative committee in St. Paul, insisting that educators would have options to demonstrate their skills and have plenty of time to comply.

MnSCU is working to make it as easy as possible for high school instructors to meet the updated standards, Anderson said.

Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, has argued the credentialing update could drastically limit the number of outstate educators who can teach dual-credit classes. Nolan says the system MnSCU is creating to help educators demonstrate they have the necessary skills without taking new graduate classes appears to go beyond what HLC requires.

Nolan recently asked MnSCU leaders to slow the new credentialing process and take more input from public school leaders. He also hopes MnSCU will reconsider the proposed fee increase or at least provide a better explanation of why it’s needed.

“The biggest thing is MnSCU continues to work in isolation,” Nolan said. “Our fundamental message is if they want to refer to the K-12 system as their partners, they need to treat it like it is a true partnership.”

State leaders see dual-credit classes as one way to expand college access to more students and reduce student loan debt. In 2014, the majority of Minnesota college graduates had loans to repay with an average debt of $31,579.

Lawmakers included funding increases for dual-credit courses in the current two-year state budget, including money to help instructors meet updated requirements.

Anderson said MnSCU is committed to making college classes accessible to all students. Data shows more than 20,000 students took dual-credit courses through a MnSCU partner in 2014 and 96 percent of those students earned passing grades.