Getting a free jump on college

By Joe Nathan

St Anthony and Como Park students and families have terrific opportunities to personalize the students’ education or to sign up to earn free college credit in the next few months.

And that’s thanks to many free public school options.

Partly due to family encouragement, Minnesota legislators and educators have created many great opportunities over the past several years to help youngsters identify and develop their gifts, talents and interests as they acquire vital basic- and applied-life-skills.

The state calls for students — by the end of ninth grade, and working with their families and educators — to prepare a post high school plan for transitioning to post-secondary education or employment.

In the next month, St. Paul families and students can continue their personalized planning as they select their courses for the 2022-23 school year. Personalized education builds on students’ interests and talents. That helps increase student motivation to learn.

One of the most valuable options for high school students, starting for some in ninth grade, is earning free college credit via courses taught in high school, on-line or on college campuses.

For instance, free Minnesota Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) courses are available in academic and “hands on” vocational subjects.

Though not as well known, starting in 10th grade, students can take free vocational courses at two-year public colleges such as St. Paul College and the Finishing Trade Institute. And 11th and 12th graders can take free academic or vocational courses at many colleges and universities. Admission requirements vary.

Students can take PSEO courses via the internet. State law requires that high schools let students use school computers to take PSEO courses.

The students must register for PSEO by May 30. Information is available at

But, PSEO only is one of several ways students can earn free college credit.

Tenth through 12th graders who are proficient in any of 27 world languages can earn free credit at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system by passing tests (course-taking isn’t required). Languages include ASL, Arabic, Chinese, Dakota, French, German, Hmong, Karen, Ojibwe, Somali and Spanish. Information here:

And, virtually every St. Paul district and charter high school offers college level courses — called Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Concurrent Enrollment/College in Schools. College credit for AP and IB is based on students’ final exam scores. College credit for other courses depends on students’ work throughout the term.

St. Paul Public Schools ( also offers many valuable options such as language immersion, Montessori, on-line, project-based learning and others. Current magnet/alternative enrollment is more than 10,000 students of the approximately 34,000 district total enrollment. St Paul also has developed a “Gateway to College” program with St Paul College, allowing students who’ve faced challenges to earn college credit.

St. Anthony and Como Park families also have free charter public school options, including Avalon, Great River Montessori, several language immersion schools and others. A map of charter locations is here:

Minnesota has developed numerous opportunities for personalized learning over the last 30+ years. These opportunities are found within school districts as well as chartered, private, home and online schools. Their availability gives options for thousands of students to learn to their potential while also being a resource for traditional learning.

Expansion of personalized learning will benefit our increasingly diverse student population while also improving traditional learning for all. School leaders and policy makers should make its growth a priority. 

Joe Nathan directs the St. Paul-based Center for School Change.

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