Native American students find success and free college credits too
Friday, February 07 2014
Written by Marisa Gustafson, Center for School Change,
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Minneapolis South High senior Sean Buehlmann is finding ways to both challenge and reward herself. She is among a growing group of students taking advantage of Dual Credit courses – where students earn high school credit and free college credit at the same time.

Buehlmann took college classes for free at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to learn the Dakota language, an interest of hers that she wasn't able to fulfill at her high school. She has now earned free college credit while studying the Dakota language through the state-funded Post Secondary Enrollment Options program.

Micah Hill is a former Dual Credit student who is now in his second year of college at MCTC. Upon enrolling he learned that he had already fulfilled three of his college requirements through Dual Credit, which allowed him greater freedom to choose more interesting classes. Hill is planning to transfer into a four-year program to obtain a degree in psychology. He recently lamented that his only regret is, “I wish I would have taken more Dual Credit.”ben_rybisky_photo_st_paul_open1.jpg

Across the river, St. Paul Public Schools student Ben Rybisky earned free college credit through his school’s Project Lead the Way program courses in engineering. Open World Learning Community is one of many schools in Minnesota who are offering PLTW college-level courses where students earn free college credit in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Rybinsky took his classes at Saint Paul College, where he was able to get a taste for the experience of college. He is now set to graduate this spring and has been accepted to several colleges.

There are many different programs that allow high school students to earn free college credit. Classes can take place at the high school, on a college campus, online or credits can be earned through one-time tests. Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools or concurrent enrollment, Project Lead the Way, Post Secondary Enrollment Options and College-Level Examination Program are the most common opportunities utilized by Minnesota students. They have been able to graduate college one or two years early.

These Dual Credit programs are ways for students to earn free college credits, saving time and money in their post-secondary education. But they can also provide important experience and preparation for college. National research has shown that students who take these types of courses are more likely to graduate from high school, twice as likely to enter a college or university and about twice as likely to persist and graduate with a degree.

Additional research suggests that not only are these programs good for students who have traditionally had access to them (white and middle class students), but their positive effects are even more pronounced for typically under-served students – those from low income families and students of color. 

A recent analysis of data from the Minnesota Department of Education by the Center for School Change shows growing numbers of students are participating in Dual Credit programs. Over the last five years, every program showed growth, including in Native American students. Although the percentage of Native students in these programs grew with a 28 percent to 140 percent increase, they are still underrepresented in these opportunities. One case in point: only 12 of the 2,799 students, statewide, who participated in IB in 2012 were Native American, a 140 percent increase over the five Native students who participated in 2007. The reports and research can be found online at

The good news is that more and more students and families are learning about these programs and the positive impact they can have. Schools and community organizations are also working to provide more Dual Credit opportunities. MIGIZI Communications is working with South High School, Nawayee Center School and others to encourage Native American students to participate in these programs. They have received support from the US Department of Ed’s Office of Indian Education, through a demonstration grant with their Native Academy Connections project.

Students who are interested in these programs should check with their high school counselor to see if AP, IB, CIS, PLTW, or concurrent enrollment is available. PSEO is available to students at any high school.

For more information on Dual Credit programs, including videos, student experiences and an interactive map, visit: and

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