This spring, I graduated high school with 49 complete college credits. I am 11 credits away from my associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. I was able to do this through Post Secondary Education Option (PSEO), a program which gave me the opportunity to complete high school while also being a full-time college student—all at no cost to me or my family. Because PSEO has had such positive benefits on my academic career, I believe schools should make information on PSEO more accessible and encourage more students to take advantage of this unique program.
I started PSEO during my junior year of high school, when I applied to a community college and was accepted. I started as a part-time PSEO student, taking three classes at the college and two classes at my high school. Managing two schedules was a bit difficult at the beginning, but I got the hang of it by the end of the first week. I managed to finish my first year with a 4.0 GPA, so my senior year, I decided to go ahead and do full-time. This meant that as a 17-year-old, I was a full-time college student with absolutely everything paid for. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
While being able to attend college for free is probably the biggest benefit of PSEO, the program offered me a lot more than that. It helped me understand what it means to be responsible for my own education. Unlike high school, professors did not reach out to me if I was struggling. If I needed help understanding material or if I was falling behind, it was up to me to ask for help. This was very intimidating at first, but it paid off. Not only did I get very good grades, I also developed a lot of positive relationships with my professors, who have now offered to write me letters of recommendation as I move ahead in school. PSEO taught me to be assertive and to advocate for myself in my academic career.
I also established a good work ethic and efficient study skills. My 2014 fall semester, I was taking 17 credits while working a part-time job. That was a lot to manage and it challenged me to prioritize, study effectively, manage a schedule and also allow myself to take breaks as I needed them. I was also able to take classes that otherwise would never have been available to me during high school, like Women’s Response to Violence and Medical Ethics. I got to actively discover and pursue my passions while still being a high school student. That semester taught me a lot about what my limit is and how not to push it, while giving me the study skills and confidence to move onto higher education.
Finally, PSEO gave me a chance to learn in a new, diverse and motivating environment. This last school year, I took a college class of 25-30 students, from at least eight different countries, and ages ranging from 17-65 years old. I cannot even begin to describe how much I learned in that course in one semester.
Like any system, PSEO can certainly be improved. For example, I faced a lot of challenges as I learned that the state’s high school graduation requirements did not line up with the college-level classes I had been taking. Most states require that students take something like four years of social studies, three years of math, four years of English, etc. before they can graduate from high school. But in 2015, the state of Minnesota added additional and much more specific requirements. For example, a student still needs four years of social studies, but now they are required to take specific classes to fulfill those guidelines: U.S. History, Economics, World History and Geography.
While I understand the need to make sure students are learning the same things, rigid guidelines put PSEO students in a hard situation. By the time I learned about these new state requirements, I had already taken Sociology and Psychology, and my friends had completed classes on the World Wars, all at the college level. But none of these could count towards graduation requirements.
To make PSEO even better, and to encourage more students to participate and have the wonderful experience that I’ve had, I think there should be exceptions in the graduation requirements for students taking college classes. Students should still have to complete four years of English, Social Studies, etc., however, they need greater flexibility in the classes they choose to fulfill those requirements. I also think that up-to-date information on PSEO needs to be much more accessible to students and families. And I’m not alone in thinking this: A recent report from Center for School Change found that schools across Minnesota must significantly update the information they give to students on PSEO.
PSEO is an amazing program and gives students a chance to pursue their passions, take ownership of their education and much more, all while accruing college credit at no cost. But to make this program all that it can be, we should give PSEO participants greater flexibility to complete high school graduation requirements, and also make sure that all students have the information they need to take advantage of the program, like I have.
Asyana Eddy recently graduated from the FAIR School Downtown, but was a full-time PSEO student at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. She is passionate about women's issues, health and art.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows' and guest bloggers' views and opinions are solely their own.