Report urges broader PSEO

Colleges need to advertise PSEO and admit more students, the report said.

Cati Vanden Breul

Twenty years ago Minnesota became the first state to allow high school students to take college courses and get credit for free.

A state law allows students who are accepted into the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program to use state money that would have gone to their high school, to pay instead for tuition and books at a participating higher education institution.

But a report released Monday by the University’s Center for School Change suggests colleges might not be giving enough information about the program or offering admission to as many students as they should.

The University limits the enrollment of new PSEO students to 450 for the fall semester and admits an additional 50 students in the spring, said Danielle Tisinger, director of the program at the Twin Cities campuses.

Typically, about 700 to 900 students apply in the fall and 100 to 200 in the spring, she said.

Because of the enrollment cap, some qualified students might be turned away, said Joe Nathan, co-author of the report.

Students who are not challenged in high school might not perform up to their ability academically and will miss out on the opportunity to participate in PSEO because of a low grade point average or class rank, he said.

“Some students don’t have a strong GPA because they’re bored stiff in high school, but they absolutely blossom when they come here,” Nathan said.

Students who participate in the PSEO program are more likely to graduate college and tend to have higher GPAs than incoming first-year students, he said.

But budget constraints have deterred the University from expanding the program, Tisinger said.

“In an ideal world, there would be more opportunities available, but budgets are always tricky,” she said.

The University wouldn’t want its services for students to decline because of an expanded PSEO program, Tisinger said.

“We’d need to make sure we had appropriate staffing levels to work with the expanded number of students,” she said.

“The University also has a duty to its enrolled students; we’d want to make sure that everybody had a good opportunity to get the classes they wanted.”

But Nathan said expanding the program would help the University achieve two of its main goals.

“We think this is one way to both diversify the University of Minnesota, and also think it’s a way to increase the graduation rates.”

Good experience, but some students face obstacles

Students who participate in the PSEO program are overwhelmingly satisfied with the experience, according to the report.

Lindsay Anderson, a 2001 Carlson School of Management alumna, participated in the PSEO program through Southwest Minnesota State University during her junior and senior years of high school before transferring to the University once she graduated.

Anderson, who was the valedictorian of her high school class, said enrolling in college early gave her the opportunity to see what she was missing in high school.

“The professors were so inspiring and challenging; they provided the environment I was lacking in high school where I was bored, unchallenged and unmotivated,” she said.

But even though she remained active in her high school’s golf and speech teams, the school was not supportive of her decision to participate in the PSEO program, she said.

“They thought of the school losing money, because the state funds go over to the college as soon as I enrolled with them,” Anderson said.

She said the school denied her acceptance into the National Honor Society because she wasn’t going to high school full time and threatened to take away her valedictorian status even though she was first in her class.

“At that age, you just think that things are going to be fair. And if you’re a good student and in all of these activities, why wouldn’t you be let in?”

Anderson said dealing with hostile teachers and administrators made her a stronger person and taught her how to stand up for what she believed in.

“I just hope none of what I went through happens today. It just seemed so crazy that they would hold back a student who was just trying to succeed,” she said.

But according to the report, at least 17 percent of PSEO participants still have trouble with unhelpful or unsupportive high school teachers when they choose to enroll in the program.

Nonwhites, men underrepresented

The report also found that men and nonwhites are underrepresented in PSEO programs around the state.

Sixty-seven percent of PSEO participants are women, even though they only make up 48 percent of the overall high school junior and senior class population in the state.

“That finding was really unexpected,” Nathan said.

Although the University’s PSEO Web site is one of the best in the state, he said, more information about the program needs to be provided to high school students and their families in order to increase participation.

The report’s authors are meeting today with state education officials and community leaders to discuss the report’s findings.