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Several students taking notes in a classroom.

PSEO has helped more than 110,000 students participate in higher education, according to U researchers, and those enrolled are consistently achieving higher grade point averages in college than their peers.

Going to college while in high school

By Jamie Proulx

From eNews, February 9, 2006

For two decades, Minnesota has led the effort to bring high school juniors and seniors into the college classroom through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) law. This innovative practice--created in Minnesota--allows high school students to spend all or part of their school year on college campuses, taking courses at no charge. State funds that are allocated to the local school district follow the student to his or her chosen college, paying all tuition and book fees. Many states throughout the country have since adopted similar legislation.

The Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute recently completed a nine-month review of the PSEO program. Researchers commissioned essays from and surveyed hundreds of past participants, conducted a statewide poll on the program, and analyzed data of the student population in PSEO classes. Their report, Stretching Minds and Resources: 20 Years of Post Secondary Enrollment Options in Minnesota, concludes that the impact of PSEO has been very positive. At the same time, there is great room for improvement.

Researchers found that PSEO has helped more than 110,000 students participate in higher education since the program began in 1985. Those enrolled are performing well academically, consistently achieving higher grade point averages in college than their peers. In some cases, students are able to complete a full year of college before entering their freshman year. This saves students time and money and has allowed many to attend college who otherwise may not have.

Yet even though student participation continues to grow, researchers found a disturbing trend among the student population taking advantage of this opportunity. The majority of PSEO participants are white, middle- and upper-class females. Young men and African American, Hispanic, and Native American students are significantly underrepresented. More than 20 percent of students interested in PSEO reported that they experienced problems with or faced resistance from school counselors and teachers when pursuing PSEO classes. Some high schools simply do not promote PSEO as an option for students.

The report urges a community-wide effort to provide more information about PSEO to students and their families. Those who would benefit most from PSEO in order to afford higher education may not even be aware of the opportunity.

Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan, Center for School Change director.

"More than half of the participating students told us that the number-one way to improve the program was to get more information out," says Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change.

The report argues that increased student involvement across the economic spectrum could help alleviate several important policy challenges facing Minnesota, such as the rising cost of higher education for families and the state. Taking college courses early could also increase graduation rates for those who enter post-secondary education.

In addition to benefiting individual students, the PSEO has affected the entire K-12 system in Minnesota. For example, some high schools have added additional "college-level" courses, and school districts are given a financial incentive to create more PSEO opportunities within their schools. If a student chooses PSEO, those state funds are reallocated to the post-secondary institution, but if the student finds what he or she needs at the high school, the school retains those funds. According to the report, this competition has stimulated vast improvement in the K-12 system.

The center followed up the report's release by hosting a meeting with nearly 65 local students and leaders, including former PSEO participants, state legislators, Minnesota Education commissioner Alice Seagren, Minnesota Higher Education Services Office director Susan Heegaard, MnSCU chancellor James McCormick, and several representatives of communities of color in the Twin Cities.

"There was a very strong, bipartisan interest in working together to help more students learn about the PSEO program," says Nathan. "We especially want to reach those from low-income families and students of color. We plan to follow up on the recommendations in 2006."

To read the full report, visit the Center for School Change.