Pathways to higher education

Much has been said recently at both the national and state level about the need to create pathways between secondary and post-secondary education. In Minnesota, we have been fortunate to have had for decades what is called the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO).

This concept was conceived to allow students under specific conditions to attend a post-secondary educational institution while still in high school. The cost of the course work would be paid at a specific maximum amount from state aid to local school districts. This has provided students who live near higher education institutions an opportunity to gain college credits while still in high school.

The PSEO program, while great, has not been without challenges. School districts felt the brunt of losing too many good students to colleges or universities during their senior year. Juniors and seniors in high school at times missed out on activities at the high school.

Finally, funding issues were always a point of contention. Southwest Minnesota State University has taken a different pathway to creating opportunities for high school students to obtain entry way college course work while in high school that overcome the challenges.

SMSU has developed over the last decade a high quality alternative that is offered in the high school so that students do not need to leave their home campuses. The national term for our program is “concurrent enrollment.” At SMSU we call it “College Now.” Today, we have grown to be the co-leader in Minnesota alongside of the University of Minnesota. For the fall and spring semesters of the 2012-13 academic year we registered over 6,200 students (unduplicated) across the state of Minnesota in over 90 different high schools. We are a nationally accredited concurrent enrollment institution following strict educational guidelines.

How does it work? We work with high schools to identify faculty members with appropriate credentials to teach at the collegiate freshmen and sophomore level. We assign University faculty as facilitators to mentor high school faculty in offering university courses. These courses are offered at the same levels of difficulty and with the same course outcomes as courses at the collegiate level.

The benefits of this program are great. The high school student is receiving a college course in a familiar environment. The high school continues to have a great cross section of students on its campus. It allows the student to gain the full experience of their senior year. College Now facilitates better use of human capital as well as physical capital. It is an extremely efficient use of resources.

As we have grown, so too has the interest in concurrent enrollment grown. Today, conversations between the Department of Education and the Minnesota State College and University system have intensified. Hopefully, funding of the concept will increase as more institutions choose to participate.

Now we are exploring the next step in the process. Initially we offered course work that would full fill college freshmen and sophomore level required courses. We are now seeing the development of pilot programs that create a defined educational pathway for students to work towards or complete their Associate of Arts degree while in high school.

While only in the development stage, we hope to have such a pathway completed for students at Marshall High School within months. The collaboration between the two institutions has been great and the hope is that we develop a model that has the potential to be replicated at many other schools and colleges.

The concurrent enrollment model is an effective and efficient way to create a solid pathway to higher education while the student is enrolled in high school. It reduces higher education costs to families and taxpayers. College Now will open doors not otherwise possible to students in rural Minnesota!