A proposal in the state Senate would open the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program to high school sophomores interested in career and technical classes.
Currently, juniors and seniors who meet the eligibility requirements for the PSEO program can take college-level classes on campus and receive credit that counts for both their college transcript and high school graduation requirements.
The cost of tuition and books is subsidized by the state, so many students join the program to get a head start in college and save money.
“I’ve learned much more than I would in a normal class setting,” said Yitz Deng, a junior from Eden Prairie High School participating in the PSEO program at the University of Minnesota.
“The classes are challenging but not too challenging in that I have no idea how to continue,” he said.
If passed, the measure would allow 10th graders to attend college as PSEO students as well. Students could take one college course in a career or technical field to “test their wings,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista.
The University does not offer career or technical courses, so this bill wouldn’t make an impact here.
The proposal is aimed at students who may have lost interest in the typical education system, Olson said. The goal is to allow students “not functioning well in the current system to have a chance at academics,” she said.
If they receive a “C” or better in the course, they would be able to continue on and potentially become a full-time PSEO student.
“The whole point is that while they are bright, [the students] have not necessarily done well in an academic structure. [This bill will] try to find a way to both keep them in school and engage their academic interests,” Olson said.
The original version of the bill included ninth graders as well, but the idea of having ninth graders on college campuses received some skepticism and was amended, Olson said.
She said many students who might be interested in technical careers don’t have the chance to experience career technical classes, because such courses are disappearing from high schools.
“As we’ve started to elevate and place more academic requirements on students, many of our career technical kinds of courses at the high school level have disappeared,” Olson said. “Many students don’t get any exposure or introduction that they would see that step into college, even on a normal time schedule. We’re trying to find options to overcome that void.”
But some argue that most 15- and 16-year-olds aren’t ready for college.
“I think it would be an extraordinary student at that age who would be able to take full benefit of University courses,” University President Eric Kaler said of the possibility of 10th graders participating in PSEO.
“I think the ability of students to grow and mature in the high school environment is very important, so while of course we would welcome an exceptional student who could take advantage of the University courses, I really think that would be unusual and rare to have one of those students join us,” he said.
Conn McCartan, principal of Eden Prairie High School, said he is concerned whether 10th graders are socially and intellectually mature enough for college.
“The manner in which college students must engage their studies requires both an independence and a stamina that would challenge high school sophomores,” McCartan wrote in an email.
The bill has a companion in the House, but that version removed the language about expanding the program to include ninth and 10th graders.
“I listened to the University of Minnesota and MnSCU on the readiness of ninth and 10th grade, that their reading level and math level might not be at the level needed to succeed,” said the bill’s author Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.
Urdahl said he planned to meet with Olson to resolve differences between the bills.
Urdahl said his version of the bill includes the establishment of a task force to make recommendations for incorporating career and technical training into high schools as well as an internship program between schools and businesses to help train young workers.
“I don’t have an objection to a task force, but I also don’t think we should wait forever and put things off rather than letting kids have an experience,” Olson said.