Why maturity is important when high-school students take college classes

A couple of MPR’s Public Insight Network members have written in about their experiences in the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, which I reported on earlier.

They wrote in not as former PSEO students, but as parents and faculty members.

Both liked PSEO — which allows high school students to take classes in college — but they also voiced concerns over students’ maturity level.

Joel Reiter, a 59-year-old computer programmer from Cambridge, said his two home-schooled children took PSEO classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for two years. They went on to Bethel University, which accepted all of their credits. They ended up finishing Bethel in three years instead of four, which saved them a quarter of the cost of their college education.

He said PSEO was “a good experience for both kids. … Both were well prepared to enter Bethel.”

But he added:

If there is a downside to PSEO it is the compression of the on-campus college experience. Coming in with advanced sophomore standing is awkward for peer relationships, but the worst part was pressure to declare a major and the difficulty of lining up all the right courses in three years. If we had it do over again we might have encouraged the kids to get out and work a year to allow more time for reflection and planning.

Kris Bigalk, a faculty member in English and creative writing at Normandale Community Collegesaid her stepdaughter went to Hopkins High School and took PSEO classes at Normandale her in her junior and senior years. She ended up enrolling there, and then moved on to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Bigalk said most of the credits transferred to Boulder, and that her daughter’s studies at Normandale “prepared her very well for the challenging curriculum at Boulder.”

As a professor and relative of several PSEO students, Bigalk said, she’s seen many PSEO students succeed — and some fail. Some of it is due to a lack of maturity:

“Many high school students with high grades are not socially mature enough to deal with college, and/or aren’t able to commit to the higher number of study hours, the higher level of reading (and the time it takes to annotate and study the reading), and the regular class attendance necessary to succeed at college.

Students with good grades in high school sometimes haven’t had to try very hard, because they’re just smart, and high school was not challenging for them — and as a result, they have trouble with time management, prioritizing school assignments, and organizing the more complex projects assigned at the college level.”

Bigalk said that parents who are thinking of having their children take PSEO courses should first enroll them in a college-level study-skills and orientation course. Parents should also make sure they get a privacy waiver that allows them to keep track of their children’s grades and attendance.

She said she’s not sure whether her younger children will participate in the PSEO classes:

If they do, it will be because I feel that they understand the heavier workload and are prepared to give up social and recreational time to do that work. … PSEO sounds like a great way to get “free” college credits, but it is also a student’s introduction to college — and I think it’s important that the experience is positive, and paves the way for the student to feel more confident as he or she moves on to college after graduation.

  • asiljoy

    I participated in the PSEO program through Ridgewater College and obtained an AA during that time period. I would say my workload was about the same as my friends who stayed in high school and took AP classes. Personally, I preferred the college courses because I was able to arrange my schedule so that I could have extra time to prepare for my athletic endeavors, but I recognize I missed out on that ‘high school experience’ that everyone seems to deem so necessary.

    As for the program itself, my biggest complaint wouldn’t be for myself, but for others. I had a bunch of friends that would have greatly benefited from being able to do PSEO as a technical degree, but didn’t bother to take any PSEO classes when they realized they’d mostly have to take liberal arts classes to fill the requirements for high school graduation; these were classes that wouldn’t help them get their technical degrees at all, they’d just be accumulating credits/taking harder classes than necessary. Which, even at the time, I felt were some rather… ‘fluffy’ requirements for high school graduation. Perhaps if we narrowed them down to what actually was important, like reading, writing, personal finance, and math, and then let the rest go, those kids would have been able to become mechanics and vet techs through this program.

    On a side note, I’m a little weirded out by the continual push to have all children avoid failure at any point in their childhood. I fell on my face in my first chem class at the college level, but like they say, there’s no better lesson on why to avoid fire than getting burned. I’m not saying all children should be pushed into this, but if they meet the requirements and want to give it a try, I say let them.

    • afriedrich

      Recent legislation now lets students take PSEO classes in vocational and technical areas. Would that have done the trick?