PSEO law saves students, families and taxpayers millions

The following column first appeared in APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during late December, 2020, including the Caledonia Argus.

PSEO law saves students, families

and taxpayers millions

Former Minnesota Commissioner of Education Bob Wedl, of Edina, was right. Just released research confirmed one thing he thought and one thing he wondered: Minnesota’s pioneering 35-year-old Postsecondary Enrollment Options law not only saves students and families millions of dollars, it also saves taxpayers millions.

Since students will register for 2021-22 courses early in next year, why not read up in the next few weeks about career/technical and academic courses available through PSEO and other dual-credit options?

The new research found:

— PSEO saves Minnesota taxpayers an estimated $15.1 million per year. That’s because dollars follow students. Instead of helping pay both high school and college costs, the state pays once as 10th-12th graders simultaneously earn high school and higher education credit. Even considering a small allocation to help pay transportation costs for students from low-income Minnesota families, this is a great deal for taxpayers.

PSEO saves participating students up to $59.8 million a year. State funds follow students, paying tuition, books and fees.

— In contrast, other dual-credit programs taught in high schools such as College in the Schools/concurrent enrollment, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate — cost the state millions of dollars. For example, training and examinations for CIS and AP cost an additional $8.5 million.

The research was done by Mark Misukanis, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota Senate Education Finance and Minnesota Office of Higher Education fiscal analyst. He’s among Minnesota’s most knowledgeable people to study costs of education programs.

The report was commissioned by People for PSEO , a statewide group of mostly high school PSEO participants, PSEO alumni and adult supporters. People for PSEO supports programs like AP, IB and CIS, explaining, “We believe families and students deserve options.”

The group’s president, Aaliyah Hodge, a St. Louis Park graduate who earned a University of Minnesota B.A. degree at 19 thanks to PSEO, explained, “For me, PSEO was a catalyst that led me out of poverty and allowed me to reach my full academic potential without being saddled with debt.”

Wedl traveled the state in 1985, explaining PSEO to excited students, curious families and sometimes skeptical educators. He’s a very diplomatic, courageous person. Wedl thinks PSEO is “amazing.” He says it’s led to “a redesign of grades 11-14 without increasing costs.”

Participating students and parents love it.

Zeke Jackson, a Little Falls High School graduate, recalled, “Being surrounded by college-age students fostered a sense of maturity that I may not have otherwise developed at 16 years old.”

Monica Petrov, of Richfield, wrote: “PSEO allowed my son to graduate from the University of Minnesota at the age of 20 and at virtually no cost to him. Because of his early graduation and lack of any debt, he was able to take a gap year after graduation and still be ahead of his peers both academically and financially. Had he not had PSEO, it’s very possible he would not have attended/finished college.”

Hannah and Heather Quarnstrom, of Stacy, took PSEO courses at the University of Northwestern. Hannah recalls: “I took courses ranging from economics to medical terminology. By taking these courses I was able to save money and graduate college in 3 years debt free. This gave me a world of opportunities once I graduated. PSEO opens doors for students’ futures. “

Heather explained: “I was able to complete my undergraduate degree in three years rather than four. This not only saved me thousands of dollars in tuition but also advanced my learning and prepared me for the rigor of college classes even before I began!”

Rahma Farah, a Minneapolis high school senior who’s a full-time PSEO student at Minneapolis Community Technical College, told me: “PSEO has taught me numerous skills, such as how to manage my time given that I was taking a full-time college course load alongside my extensive list of extracurriculars. PSEO gave me the opportunity to learn the necessary work/life balance to succeed.”

Some schools do and many don’t follow the law requiring them to provide “up to date” information about PSEO on district websites and in writing to 9th-11th grade students and parents three weeks before they register, or by March 1, whichever comes first.

Research earlier this year by the Center for School Change, where I work, showed more than 90% of a random sample of 95 Minnesota districts and charters weren’t providing critical information such as schools must:

— Allow students to use school computers and internet to take online PSEO courses.

— Permit PSEO students to participate in high school extracurricular programs.

— Allow 10th-12th graders admitted to a college to take PSEO courses.

A fall 2020 study found more than 70% of websites still didn’t include vital information. Last January, Commissioner of Education Mary Cathryn Ricker sent superintendents and charter directors language that MDE believes satisfies the law’s requirements. It’s here.

DFL and Republican legislators have supported PSEO, as have students and families since 1985. This research shows it’s justified. As Tracy Quarnstrom, whose two daughters participated, explained, “PSEO is an amazing value and an opportunity that families should investigate with an open mind.”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at or JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.