When Princess Chomilo-Kisob enters college next fall, she will have already received college credit, saved thousands of dollars for her family, and gotten over the initial anxiety and intimidation that often accompanies the transition from high school to college. All of this has been made possible through the Post Secondary Education Options (PSEO) program.
According to Laura Bloomberg, associate director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota (U of M), PSEO has been around for approximately 20 years. “At that time, [administrators] noticed that students’ high school experiences weren’t meeting their needs,” Bloomberg said.
Through PSEO, eligible high school juniors and seniors can take college-level classes on college campuses while still enrolled in high school. The Minnesota Department of Education pays for PSEO tuition and books, with no cost to students and their families.
If the student completes and passes the course, they could receive both high school and college credit. The program currently works within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, including Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Metropolitan State University, as well as the U of M.
Chomilo-Kisob grew up knowing that money for college would not be readily available. She knew that if she was going to attend college, she would have to work for it. “I felt pressured to get good grades, but thanks to my teachers and their support and willingness to help me, I accepted the challenge,” she said.
Any 11th or 12th grader who is accepted into one of the above post-secondary institutions is eligible for the program. But Bloomberg says PSEO really needs to increase participation among students of color. In the academic calendar year 2006-2007, only 2.7 percent of eligible African American 11th and 12th graders participated compared to 5.1 percent of eligible White students.
Mary Lou Grunman, the school counselor at the Interdistrict Downtown School (IDDS), says about 16 of its students are involved in the PSEO program. It’s a small school, but students are encouraged to participate because of the early exposure to college.
“It [makes] them realize they can do it, which inspires them to want to go,” said Grunman. “Some aren’t aware of other avenues into college,” she added.
Chomilo-Kisob is a senior at IDDS. She got involved in PSEO as a high school junior because “her friends were thinking about it.” She got the opportunity to visit the U of M as well as MCTC, but chose to attend the latter institution.
She has taken English sociology classes at MCTC, receiving dual credit as a high school student also earning college credits.
“In college, you’re not as close to the teachers,” said Chomilo-Kisob. “There’s a distance. You’re more independent and on your own. The advantage is that you get to practice while communicating more with your high school teachers…asking them more questions.”
“The kids have to make decisions,” said Grunman. Students have to compose a schedule where they can fit in their high school classes, college courses, and maybe even extracurricular activities if they have them.
Although students are expected to adapt to a rather independent school day, there is some help. Every PSEO institution has advisers to meet the specific needs of PSEO students. “[They] know what courses to recommend. If [one] started as a junior, then they’re already hooked into the system,” Grunman added.
“Many people are shocked that I’m in high school and wish they would have gotten a head start while in high school,” said Chomilo-Kisob of fellow students in her college classes.
Participation is important, because the benefits often define the success of many students’ college careers. Perhaps the greatest benefit is the cost savings. At the U of M, each credit is worth $327. The cost of one semester for a full-time student is $5,378.
“PSEO is saving me and my mother money, and it looks good on college applications,” said Chomilo-Kisob.
“In this economic downturn, we’re trying to advocate for students to go to college, but they need financial aid to make this happen,” said Bloomberg.
“That’s one of the challenges. With PSEO and early enrollment, they’ll have time to look for scholarship money.”
Besides cost savings and dual credit, early exposure is also an advantage. “It is estimated that nearly one-third of incoming freshman drop out before the end of their first year,” said Grunman. “They get into college, and then they realize that it’s hard. This way, they’re learning what it is to be a college student, so they’re already interested and not so overwhelmed.”
“One student began college as a junior because of all the classes she’d taken, and she was the first in her family to attend college,” said Bloomberg.
One would think with so many benefits, there would be more participation.
Information about the program has mostly been circulated by word of mouth, but Bloomberg says their current recruitment efforts, which mainly focus on attracting students of color, will be targeted to community institutions.
Campus tours, community media, and translation of program materials into other languages are all part of PSEO’S outreach plan. There is even a student blog (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cschhh/exchange/) and a Facebook group page.
But, Bloomberg says some high schools are discouraging participation. “Many times, it’s based on the skills and knowledge of the school counselor and priorities of the school,” she noted. Other reasons for discouragement include school enrollment numbers or a student’s grades and behavior.
Many times, the schools that fail to promote these types of opportunities are where most students of color are. “When schools close out options, it does more harm than good when it could very well be exactly what they need,” said Bloomberg. “It’s stunning the number of students who have a limited view of their options. With such a narrow view of what is their potential…we are losing our society’s future. But, we’ll keep trying to make sure people have information and exposure,” she said.
Most of the program’s outreach is student-driven. The PSEO Communications Council is a group of current PSEO students and recent graduates who speak to prospective students about the program. At a recent event hosted by the U of M and the Council called “You at the U,” a panel of PSEO students spoke to a group from Community of Peace Academy, an alternative charter high school on the Eastside of St. Paul.
One of the panelists, Jihan Samatar, is a senior at Roosevelt High School. She has taken courses in physics, Arabic, and political science at the U of M. “It takes a lot of hard work and self-motivation,” Samatar told the students.
Samatar was recently accepted into the university’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) program and has dreams of becoming a doctor. Another student on the panel earned 53 credits toward his engineering major while in high school.
“My advice is to definitely think about it ahead of time,” said Chomilo-Kisob. “Once [you’re] in, there’s no turning back. You can always start with a small number of classes [and] then, as a senior, maybe [attend ] full time,” she said. Chomilo-Kisob plans to double major in international relations and journalism, then attend law school to become an ambassador like her grandfather in Cameroon.
“These students are starting to connect to the future,” said Bloomberg. “Some think college is so far off.”
For more information about PSEO, ask your high school counselor or contact Karen Johnson at the MN Dept of Education, 651-582-8733 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Application materials can be downloaded at http://education.state.mn.us/.
Lauretta Dawolo Towns welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.