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Developmental Education Financial Aid
Problem in MnSCU Two-Year Colleges, 2014







In May 2014, Minnesota State's System Office announced that students will no longer receive federal financial aid for their developmental classes that cannot be proven to have high school (as opposed to junior high/middle school) content.  Each department at each two-year college must file its own appeal to prove high school content for some or all of its developmental course(s).

Here are (1) useful links and (2) a Q and A section.





MN High School Writing Standards, 3-p. copied version (pp. 63-65 of Minnesota Academic Standards—English Language Arts K-12 2010) (Word)

Minnesota Academic Standards—English Language Arts K-12 2010, 90-page original: http://education.state.mn.us (web)  (This is the document used by MnSCU to determine the "List A" and "List B" developmental courses scheduled to lose financial aid.)

Other lists and summaries of skills from the Minn. Dept. of Education:  www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards (web)



Appeal Example: Higher-Dev. Writing (Inver Hills) (Word)

Appeal Example: Lower-Dev. Writing (Century--Accepted) (PDF)

Appeal Example: Lower-Dev. Writing (Normandale--Accepted) (Word)

Appeal Example: Lower-Dev. Reading (Normandale--Accepted) (Word)



Emails by Two College Presidents (IHCC, RCTC)  re Dev. Ed. Problem (Word)



Questions are in bold; answers follow.

Notes: I have made every attempt to keep this Q-&-A section as factual as possible. It has been developed by quoting and paraphrasing faculty and others (with names removed) from several MnSCU two-year colleges and two MnSCU documents. If you would like to add supporting documents or details, please send them. 
--Richard Jewell

What is the problem? MnSCU says, according to its document above, that it was determined in early May that some students in our two-year colleges may have developmental level courses with primarily below-high school content. Federal guidelines state that students in such courses are ineligible for federal financial aid. As one faculty member says, MnSCU then "ordered all colleges to drop such courses." MnSCU has labeled the courses to be dropped as “A List” and "B List" courses. 

“A List” courses were dropped immediately from summer federal financial aid; they include mostly lower-developmental Reading, Writing, and Math, were immediately declared ineligible for federal financial aid. “B List” courses, mostly higher-developmental, will be dropped from fall financial aid.  However, both "A List" and "B List" courses can, said MnSCU, be justified by Aug. 1 by their departments as having high school content, and these justifications will be reviewed by MnSCU for acceptance and return of financial aid. A third set of developmental courses are exempt from this ban of federal aid: they include, one administrator said, ESL/NNS/EAP developmental courses, and developmental courses required for certificates.

Who made this decision and how? This determination came from MnSCU and was not sent to other schools outside of the MnSCU system. MnSCU sent an email about the decision to each college May 22. Another faculty member at a second school reported she saw a copy of part of the initial letter, and it was sent to her college president.  The letter came from Karen Hynick, who is the MnSCU Director of College Transition at the system office.

According to this faculty member, the Web PDF document Minnesota Academic Standards—English Language Arts K-12 2010 (90 pp.) is what “the system office used to examine our courses based on whatever Karen Hynick could find about our courses on our college websites. There was no formal rubric or score card used because there was not enough time to create one. Once the list of courses to be discontinued [from federal aid] immediately was created (the A List), someone else from the system office reviewed the same courses using the same method. If she questioned a course that was on the A List, she moved it to the B List, which includes the courses that need to be reviewed by August 1.” All 2-yr. colleges now have this Aug. 1 deadline to justify both "A" and "B List" courses for the future.

Why is this loss of financial aid not desirable?  A third faculty member from a third school says her department “sees this as…shutting out the most disadvantaged and vulnerable students from higher ed.…” An additional problem is that the cancellation of lower-developmental courses for lack of numbers could force lower-developmental students into higher-developmental courses—a one-course-fits-all paradigm—with a much wider range of needs. Other faculty have noted in the past that with more barriers to poor students in developmental education, especially outside the metro area, some students might be forced to take off-campus preparatory courses dozens of miles away from their homes and/or for fees they can’t pay.  Currently, still other faculty members note that with fewer developmental courses, some faculty may be laid off.

Who is in the most trouble?

It would appear at present that the lowest level developmental math courses may be the more likely to need change of some kind. Most lower- and higher-developmental writing and reading courses (and higher dev. math courses) may comfortably fall within high school levels.

Why is the change happening now? Someone noted that the overseeing federal agency for federal financial aid can determine on its own that schools are not in compliance with the law and then require the schools to pay a financial penalty. For this reason, meeting compliance standards as quickly as possible is in MnSCU's--and its schools'--best financial interests. 

How are the changes being instituted right now? Reports from different schools vary.  At least two schools appear to have dropped "A List" courses from their summer offerings. Another school has kept them and said it will cover students' financial aid in those courses.  Some early official justifications sent to MnSCU by departments have already been successfully accepted by MnSCU.

How do we prove high-school level content? Each school’s affected departments must justify the high school level content of any course(s) they want to keep. The tendency at present among reporting schools seems to be to quote and paraphrase the same Minnesota Academic Standards document used by MnSCU to create the “A List” and the “B List.” 

The community college faculty members' union has pointed out that if any catalog descriptions or official course outline changes are to be made, they must follow the normal procedure of taking the course to the school's Academic Council. Changes to such courses can be modeled after those of other two-year MnSCU schools or of Minnesota universities' under-prepared writer courses (some of which offer college-level credit); and/or from the Minnesota Academic Standards for grades 9-12.


Minnesota State's two-year colleges were given a solution in May 2014 to a dangerous and developing financial aid problem regarding developmental education in the state.

The problem was that in some states, two-year colleges were being penalized for giving financial aid to students taking dev. courses below high-school level.
MnSCU has solved this problem by asking all two-year Minnesota colleges to provide a justification showing high-school level work in each developmental course.



Major Content Update: 3 Aug. 2015




Editions: 12-09, 10-14, 8-15, 9-16

Conference Questions--Larry Sklaney or Danielle Hinrichs. General--Richard Jewell

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