The Biden administration may have extended the pause on federal student loan payments and interest through an executive order in January, but Minnesota needs to take a closer look at how college-bound high school students in this state can be helped before they accumulate so much debt.
Part of that answer lies with better handling of the Post Secondary Enrollment Options program. Under PSEO, 10th, 11th and 12th graders can earn both high school and college credit for classes they take for free at two- or four-year colleges or universities.
The problem is that school districts aren’t excited about promoting the program because it takes away valuable education dollars from them. As a result, PSEO isn’t presented enough as an option for college-bound students as it should be, according to a study released last year by the St. Paul-based Center for School Change.
It’s not surprising school officials don’t fly advertising banners across school parking lots selling the benefits of PSEO. A district retains just $1,826 of the $10,845 that a full-time PSEO student would otherwise deliver to its bottom line, according to a study by People for PSEO.
The study’s author calculated a $15.1 million annual savings after payments are made to school districts and the colleges when students choose PSEO, the Star Tribune reported. So the state saves money when students take PSEO classes but doesn’t pass along those savings to the school districts. It instead would make sense for the districts to not lose so much funding when their students participate in the program.
People for PSEO wants legislative tweaks to fix what they see is an unfair treatment of the PSEO program, urging that the value of PSEO classes be weighted like other dual-credit classes offered in students’ high school districts.
The Minnesota Legislature should take the group’s mission seriously and make sure there is uniform treatment across the state. It doesn’t make sense for one district to treat PSEO equal to College in the Schools courses and another district a hundred miles away to give PSEO classes less weight.
PSEO isn’t meant to replace other dual-credit programs offered on high school campuses but is another choice for students — especially for students from lower-income families. In 2019 the average student debt was nearly $32,000 for Minnesota students, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success.
People for PSEO, led by college students and recent grads, is working to spread the word about this valuable program for good reason. Giving high school students a head start to a college education at no cost can sometimes mean the difference between pursuing higher education or not.