High school student earns BA degree via post secondary options

Eighteen-year-old David Greer is remarkable. He’s just earned a high school diploma and a four-year college degree. He may be the first Minnesotan to use Minnesota’s Post Secondary Enrollment Options law to pay all the costs of tuition, book and lab fees for a bachelor’s degree. The University of Minnesota, Morris recently awarded him a B.A. in statistics.

Greer’s family lives in Northfield, where he has been homeschooled. Last year, as a high school junior, he earned an A.A degree by driving to, and taking some online classes at, nearby South Central College in Faribault. He spent his senior year on the University of Minnesota, Morris, campus.  PSEO paid his tuition, books and fees, and his family paid for housing and meals.  Greer is pictured above along with his father Bryan, and mother, Stacey.

Last week David told me via email: “The PSEO program at the University of Minnesota at Morris has been amazing. … I’m extremely grateful to the university for helping me to speed up my education beyond anything I could have imagined. … My education at Morris has given me a solid foundation for my future career.”

Greer also noted, “I’m currently seeking employment as an actuarial analyst.”  His persistence, along with many other skills, suggests he could be a great employee!

Greer is not the first to earn an A.A. degree via PSEO.

The Long Prairie-Grey Eagle School District in Central Minnesota has graduated more than 40 students with A.A. degrees, earned entirely via courses taken in the ihgh school. This program has operated for several years. Give that district considerable credit. LPGE and Central Lakes Community College educators created a partnership allowing high school students to earn an A.A. degree while taking courses entirely in the high school.

Spectrum High School, a charter in Elk River, has a similar program. In 2013, a Spectrum student graduated with an A.A. degree that included taking courses on a college campus. This year a Spectrum student earned an A.A. degree via courses taken entirely in the high school. The Mounds View district has established a similar program to help a broad range of students earn these degrees.

These are all constructive, pro-student collaborative efforts that respond to families’ concerns about college costs and readiness. Recent research shows that Minnesota college graduates have the nation’s fourth highest debt, more than $31,000. That does not include students who didn’t graduate in part because of finances.

Bart Finzel, vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean, University of Minnesota, Morris told me via email that  "We were very happy to have assisted this atypical student in realizing his aspiration for a college degree."

Karen Hynick, director of College Readiness with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, MnSCU, believes Greer “is a wonderful example of Minnesota’s secondary and postsecondary education systems working together to provide the individual learner with the type of rigorous curricular experiences that he/she was ready to experience regardless of age and demonstrates how collaborative systems can work together to better advance students’ needs and leverage state resources.”

PSEO, as its name suggests, is an option. It’s not for everyone.

Marisa Gustafson, of the Center for School Change, has analyzed a 2012 Minnesota Department of Education report that shows about 62,000 students used Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or College in the Schools (also called concurrent enrollment) and about 6,300 used PSEO.

A student I’ll call “Denny” recently told me that he’s a senior at Eagan who has taken two CIS courses and five AP tests. Denny said in an email: “I had friends who did the PSEO program for classes such as econ and had a blast; however, it just didn’t seem very practical for a lot of students. … If we could easily get the credits under AP tests or CIS classes, why would we have to make the 15-minute journeys there and back from these campuses?”

Good points. Some students are fine in high school, while some do better with the greater autonomy on a college campus. Columbia University research shows great value in high school students taking college-level courses at a college.  But PSEO, like A.P, I.B and College in the Schools, should be an option.

Greer understands that. His mother, Stacey, wrote: “We could not be happier to have so much freedom in the pursuit of an excellent education tailored specifically to our children. David has clearly made the most of his educational opportunities during his high school years.”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe [at] centerforschoolchange [dot] org.

  • What an amazingly driven, accomplished student! Kudos to you, Greer. In my own experience, PSEO has also been a wonderful opportunity. The importance of this program, along with College in the Schools, and other forms of dual enrollment, cannot be overstated; these are more than the financial benefits alone. As a high school junior and senior, I enrolled as a full time PSEO student at St. Cloud State University, taking all of my courses on campus. This May, I graduated with my Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, participating in my University Commencement before high school. Roughly, the financial savings was $16,000. By enrolling as a full-time on-campus PSEO student, I challenged myself immensely, pushed and expanded my academic limits, built lasting relationships with Professors and colleagues, and grew exponentially both personally and professionally. PSEO is an excellent opportunity for so many students, and with the recent amendments to the program legislation, it is great that more students will be able to learn about it! - by Jack Raisanen on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 2:03pm
  • This is great! We have a son who will be a junior, next spring, he is homeschooled and all we have heard is how hard it is to transfer credits to another school! - by Debi Smith on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 9:39am
  • It's great to learn that he used PSEO to advance his education. This educational law makes it very cost effective for Minnesota high school students to gain college credit. I hope that all school districts, and college advancement programs, alert their high school students to this possibility. And unlike taking AP tests for college credit, PSEO is free. Joe, thank you for writing this article. - by Grace Mills on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 9:08am

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Joe Nathan's picture
Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Email him at joe [at] centerforschoolchange [dot] org