Debate surrounds postsecondary funding

by Stacy Jo

While most University students will be paying back their college loans for years after graduation, hundreds of students are attending classes for free.
Nearly 850 juniors and seniors from area high schools are enrolled at the University through the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act, passed by the state Legislature in 1985. Every quarter, postsecondary students receive University tuition, an unlimited textbook allowance and up to $125 for class supply reimbursement from state education funds.
Some University students, however, say this law is unfair. Though many say they would have taken advantage of the postsecondary program if given the opportunity, they question whether the state should fund high school students’ college educations while they must pay for theirs.
“I did all the work in high school and now I’m doing work in college and paying for it by myself,” said College of Liberal Arts freshman Rita Boersma. “It’s a good program, but for us to pay for everything is a little extreme.”
Hopkins High School senior Suzanne Reichel, the president of the Post Secondary Student Association, argues that unless a student stays at the University, enrolling in postsecondary education does not cut student costs as much as one would expect. Reichel, who doesn’t plan to attend the University when she graduates from high school, said many of her University credits will not transfer and it will take at least three more years to complete her degree.
However, she maintains the program is a necessary option for highly motivated high school students.
“It is the state’s responsibility to provide me with as many opportunities as they can within their monetary boundaries,” she said.
Doug Berg, fiscal analyst for the Minnesota Board of Higher Education, said funding for higher education is divided into two categories: instructional costs and non-instructional, or tuition, costs.
Funding for instructional costs, which include faculty and maintenance costs, is based on college enrollment. Postsecondary students, who fill open spaces in classes, are counted at half the enrollment cost of an average college student.
However, the school districts indirectly pay non-instructional costs. In lieu of the money the state gives each school district for postsecondary students who would normally be enrolled at that district’s high school, the state pays tuition and book costs directly to the University. This money is subtracted from the amount allotted each school district.
This allocation of funds has been a source of debate for some school districts since the program’s inception in 1985.
“When the students go, the money goes with them,” Berg said.
Another source of contention is the textbook allowance.
Because each school district handles its own textbook policy, some districts require students to turn their books over to the schools while others allow students to keep them. Students who are not required to return their books to their high school can sell them back to University bookstores for a profit.
Inconsistent policies like the textbook allowance haven’t escaped notice by the Legislature.
The legislative auditor conducted a statewide audit of the program in 1996. The audit concluded that the state saves money on postsecondary students because they are required to take certain courses only one time, rather than once in high school and again in college.
Saving money is not the only plus, according to a 1994 study conducted by the Advanced High School Student Services office. With a mean grade point average of 3.3, most secondary students earn better grades in University courses than incoming college freshmen, who have an average gpa of 2.7.
Christina Soderstrom, academic adviser for the Advanced High School Student Services office, maintains that many professors enjoy having postsecondary students in their classes because the students are more motivated and willing to ask questions.
Soderstrom acknowledged, however, that there is a higher incidence of cheating and plagiarism among postsecondary students, which she blames on the students’ pressure to fulfill all of their high school requirements as well as their college courses.
She said that the presence of the minimal number of postsecondary students on campus has little effect on other University students.
“There is not a large number of high school students here compared to undergraduates. It’s not like they are making a huge dent and taking up a lot of resources,” she said.
Area high schools remain divided on the program’s merits.
John Boyd, counselor at Kennedy High School in Bloomington, said some teachers at the school are concerned about the security of their jobs with so many high school students enrolling in college. However, he encourages students at his school to take advantage of the program because he says it is a positive experience that saves students a lot of money.
“I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but it’s smart,” Boyd said.