Great new group helps students, families save money

The column below originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers.

People for PSEO  Board President Aaliyah Hodge & Board member Josh Hodge talk with Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan & St. Paul Thinking Early College Fair Director JoAnn Clark and Duane Dutrieulle (photo by Joe Nathan)

Great new group helps students, families save money

The leaders of an encouraging, new Minnesota education organization range in age (and experience) from 18 to 75. Nevertheless, People for Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO ) leaders agree that many more Minnesota students should know about and make use of Minnesota’s laws permitting high school students to challenge themselves and explore careers while earning free college credit.

(Full disclosure: I helped this group get started, but I am not a member.)

The board chair, Aaliyah Hodge, 23, graduated from St. Louis Park High School. She spent her junior and senior years taking PSEO courses. This helped her graduate from the University of Minnesota at age 19 — and earn a Humphrey School graduate degree at age 21.

Hodge explained that she joined the group “because of the impact participating in the program has had on my life.”

“PSEO opened doors for me that 10 years ago I didn’t think were possible,” she said. “Growing up as someone with limited means, I knew I wanted to attend college, but because of the price of higher education I didn’t know how I could ever afford it. Participating in PSEO not only allowed me to get a jump-start on college, it also allowed me to graduate with my BA debt free.”

People for PSEO’s executive director is just 18. Zeke Jackson is a high school senior from Little Falls who is living with relatives in the Twin Cities. He’s taking PSEO courses, full time, at the University of Minnesota. Jackson joined People for PSEO “because too often students and families are not provided the information necessary to make informed decisions about whether to participate in the PSEO program.”

For Jackson, “PSEO unlocked my potential as a student and as a leader. … Through People for PSEO I get the coolest job of helping to maximize the potential of all Minnesota students who stand to benefit from PSEO.”

At the other end of the Board’s age spectrum is Edina resident Bob Wedl, 75. He’s a former Minnesota commissioner of education and former policy and planning director for Minneapolis Public Schools.

Wedl explained: “The 20th century objective was to have students get a high school diploma. But attaining that objective today is not sufficient. The 21st century objective is to have students beginning a career path when they graduate from high school. For some it means completing some college classes or even a full year or two of college. Others may complete a career certification as a welder, cosmetologist or in the health services. Each student is focused on their aspirations.”

Stacy, Minnesota, resident and educator Tracy Quarnstrom joined the group “because of the amazing benefit my daughters saw in using dual-credit options while in high school.”

“Both of my children were able to earn at least one full year of college credits with these options,” Quarnstrom recalls. “In addition, I heard many of their friends … were interested in PSEO but were finding barriers in their own high schools, which was very discouraging to me. I believe that this organization will be able to level the access to high-quality college courses and encourage participation from all types of Minnesota students.”

Bailey Onken graduated from Fulda High School in southwestern Minnesota and is now a junior at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. She wrote: “I had a very bad experience navigating my high school and PSEO. I want to make that experience better for other individuals trying to participate in PSEO because it is such a great experience and opportunity and should be encouraged.”

Board member Brook LaFloe took College in the Schools courses while in high school; she did not participate in PSEO. An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, LaFloe believes that PSEO “provides a transitional opportunity for students to get involved with college while still in high school and can mitigate some of the first-year hardships that college freshman face, such as loneliness, homesickness, poor time management and organizational skills and other social pressures that come with newfound independence. … PSEO is a way to build a student’s confidence and readiness to succeed in their first year of college.”

Hodge thinks “it’s important that all students have the opportunity to achieve regardless of socioeconomic status and regardless if they are the first in their family to attend college or if they come from a legacy family.”

People for PSEO welcomes new members – alumni, families or anyone else supporting dual credit. More information about the group is at https://people

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome::