State should expand PSEO to 9th, 10th graders

Minnesota high school juniors and seniors who meet established standards are fortunate to be able to take college classes and to have the tuition and books paid for by the state.

A question before the Minnesota Legislature is whether to allow qualified ninth  and tenth graders to take college classes as well.

The program is called Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) and thousands of Minnesota students are using it. By taking dual-enrollment courses they are receiving high school and college credits.

The Minnesota Legislature established the PSEO program in 1985 to give students an opportunity to enhance the education they receive at their high schools, alternative area learning centers, charter schools or home schools. The program gives students capable of doing college-level work the opportunity to earn postsecondary credits while completing high school graduation requirements.

Because some ninth and tenth graders have demonstrated through testing they have the maturity and ability to do college-level work, the legislature should pass the bill, this session.

Critics say freshmen and sophomores are not ready, and taking college classes so soon interferes with their regular course of study and diminishes their high school experience.

Freshmen and sophomores, however, already are taking Advanced Placement courses, just as are juniors and seniors.

Results of standardized reading and mathematics testing show which students are ready to take a college class, no matter what their year in school.

Proponents of early college study say freshmen and sophomores could start by taking just one college class. Eligibility and acceptance would be determined not by the host high school administrators but by the college and university.

Parents should welcome the PSEO program, because they do not have to pay for the college tuition and books, since their students are enrolled in the K-12 program. Students learn early about the rigors of college instruction and that enables them to plan specifically their college career path.

In addition, they realize early the importance of studying basic high school subjects so they will not have to take costly remedial college-entrance classes.

Several national studies found that students who participate in dual (school/college) credit programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to enroll in college, to start a four-year college and to stay in college for two years.

A study  by the Minnesota Center for School Change shows there is a major increase in Minnesota high school students taking college courses. Its authors recommend that since ninth and 10 graders may take Advanced Placement and Concurrent Enrollment courses, these students should be allowed to take PSEO courses on a limited basis.

Support for allowing qualified high school freshmen and sophomores take college-level classes is growing, and has bipartisan support in the Legislature. Parents and particularly students should contact their legislators and urge that the bill be passed. — Don Heinzman

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