Legislators pore over PSEO study

The PSEO study looked at who is involved and what its benefits are.

Cati Vanden Breul

Just a day after the University released a report pushing for expansion of the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program, education officials from around the state met over box lunches to discuss the findings.

Dozens of officials, including state legislators, high school and college administrators and community leaders gathered at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education on Tuesday morning to share concerns and give suggestions on how to expand access to the PSEO program.

The program is funded by the state and allows high school juniors and seniors to enroll in college classes for free.

The report ” conducted by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for School Change ” found that minority students and men were underrepresented in PSEO programs across the state.

Joe Nathan, a co-author of the study, suggested two reasons some groups of students showed low participation in the program.

Some students are not getting enough information about PSEO from their high schools, he said, and others are being turned away because of low grade point averages or class rank.

“Many students who are not particularly strong in high school but are given the opportunity to take one or two courses at a college can be marvelous students at the postsecondary level,” Nathan said.

Students who are unchallenged in high school often fail to excel academically and fall through the cracks when not allowed to explore their potential in a more rigorous environment, he said.

Claudia Fuentes, a teaching specialist in the University’s Chicano studies department, said students’ behaviors change when they’re exposed to college.

“Some kids who were disengaged because they weren’t being challenged went to PSEO and their whole attitude toward learning changed,” Fuentes said.

The report recommends that colleges create more space for students who don’t have the best academic record in high school but could succeed in college courses.

Carlos Mariani-Rosa, a state representative and executive director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, said Minnesota needs to do a better job of getting nonwhite students through college.

“Sometimes there are inherent barriers that get in the way of people taking advantage of opportunities,” Mariani-Rosa said.

Research shows students who get some experience with college at an early age are more likely to attend, he said, so getting more minority students in the PSEO program would boost their college participation.

The program also encourages low-income students to attend college because many times PSEO participants finish their first two years of college without incurring the cost.

But many high schools are not supportive of the program because they lose some of their own state funding when students enroll in college courses, and some schools are making it hard for students to join the program.

When a student participates in PSEO, the funding the state would have given to the high school goes to the college to pay for tuition and books.

Administrators from some school districts said a more viable option might be to create more “college in the schools” programs where college courses are taught in high schools.