The complications of earning college credit in high school

Are those tougher courses really a cheaper path through college? (construct via Flickr)

A couple of readers have chimed in on the issue of acceptance by private colleges of PSEO, or college-level courses that high-schoolers take to gain college credit (and possibly save some money).

Their assessment: The PSEO system is not a straightforward as it may first appear — and may not save the amount of money parents might expect.

I’d asked whether the University of Minnesota and private colleges accept PSEO courses for credit. The state Office of Higher Education said that Minnesota’s did. Then a reader named Jason wrote:

It may be accepted, but not necessarily by every private college. (Editor’s note: He may mean colleges across the U.S., not just Minnesota’s.) Plus, even if it is accepted, some schools will move you into upper level courses, but necessarily give you the credits. Thus, in some situations PSEO may not be able to shorten the time it takes to graduate. Something to examine further and create a better understanding for parents and students so that there are no surprises …..

A reader named Danielle then wrote in and echoed a couple of Jason’s statements. She also brought up a troubling point, which I’ve put in bold:

There is a lot to the PSEO Program that is not usually apparent to anyone not intimately familiar with it.

First, private colleges and universities usually do not participate in the program because the tuition they receive from the state does not even come close to the tuition they receive from regular students. Many public schools have the same concerns, but frequently feel that they do not have the option not to participate in order to maintain political goodwill with the Legislature and state constituents.

Second, students who take a full 2 years of PSEO courses are not necessarily able to graduate early. Each high school and district is permitted to decide which courses they require of students for high school graduation. Some students are not able to make a start on their intended major courses due to the number of high school graduation requirements they still have to complete. While I would never consider a class a waste of time, from a pure numbers perspective, many students enter college with an excess of lower division credits that they needed for high school that do not count toward an intended major. Yes, they can mostly fill their general education requirements in that time, but a thoughtful college degree may still require another 3-4 years depending on additional major or degree requirements.

Third, those excess credits may have a negative consequence later on in a student’s undergraduate career, depending on their financial aid status. Many federal financial aid options have a cap on the number of credits a student may earn and still receive aid. This typically correlates to a six year graduation plan, but could kick in earlier with the excess number of credits a student may have had to take in PSEO.

Finally, we have seen a wide range in acceptance of PSEO credits at different post secondary institutions. Generally speaking, Minnesota colleges and the surrounding areas accept almost all PSEO credits as transfer options. The more selective schools and Ivy League institutions almost never accept PSEO credits, though they may allow advanced course placement. The final scenario we see is a college that will only accept credits that were NOT used to complete high school graduation requirements, thereby invalidating the dual-enrollment purpose.

These are only some larger considerations based on the particular chart about the cost of college attendance. The PSEO Program itself has a number of other technicalities that could use more scrutiny at the legislative level, but they are not necessarily germane to this particular conversation.

Definitely worth a further look.

  • Donna

    Donna T (donnalea01@yahoo.com)My children took several AP courses in high school, and the consequences were similar: their financial aid ran out before they completed their degrees. However, the benefits were significant. Both of them were very well prepared for college level coursework and they had more flexibility since they had already completed most of the basic distribution requirements. This allowed them to double major and have a clear sense of their career paths. For students who are willing to do the extra work, AP and PSEO courses are great ways to ensure college success.