PSEO Program Offers High School Students College Credit for Free

Exploring PSEO as a cost-saving option for college-bound students.
Kolten Juusola, a senior at Orono High School, attends PSEO classes at the University of Minnesota.

College costs are high and rising at a rate of 5 percent per year. According to Christina Boyd, managing director of investments at Merrill Lynch in Wayzata, average annual tuition for a public university in Minnesota is $25,000. Private university tuition can run as much as $45,000 per year, and pursuing an Ivy League degree can cost upwards of $55,000 per year. Although these costs seem staggering, they don’t need to be overwhelming. There are opportunities to defray college costs, and one way is participation in a post-secondary enrollment option program during high school.

These programs, referred to as PSEO or dual enrollment, offer high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to take college courses at participating Minnesota colleges and universities. Benefits include the potential for a full-time PSEO student who begins a program in their junior year to graduate from high school with enough college credits for an associate’s degree — and it’s free.

Boyd estimates that college-bound students could reduce tuition expenses by as much as $15,000 by participating in a PSEO program. But college cost savings aren’t the only benefits for students.

Westonka High School senior Lillian Speakman says, “Taking PSEO classes is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I was feeling kind of done with high school and was ready to move on. My parents are glad that I’m saving money, but they’re also proud of me.”

It’s not only academic success for students like Speakman that parents are proud of. Speakman, of Minnetrista, says that taking PSEO classes at Normandale Community College has taught her to be organized and has convinced her that she isn’t as shy as she once thought.

“I was unsure if I would make new friends,” Speakman says, “but I’ve realized that I can make new friends and relate to professors. And I’ve discovered that I’m not afraid to ask questions. That skill should help me in the real world—like interacting with a mechanic who is fixing my car.”

Jared and Karla Juusola of Long Lake have three children, two of whom have participated in the PSEO program. Regan is a junior at Orono High School and drives or carpools to Normandale for PSEO coursework. Kolten is a senior at Orono and takes a city bus to the University of Minnesota. Karla Juusola says, “At first Kolten was concerned about the large size of the U of M campus, but he quickly learned his way around, and the bus system is fairly easy to navigate.”

Speakman and both Juusola students also work part-time. “That’s another piece of PSEO,” Karla Juusola says. “The course schedules are more flexible, allowing students more opportunity to work.”

Employment dovetails into part of Boyd’s college planning recommendations. She says students should have some skin in the game when it comes to college costs. “Many parents save half if not all of the money needed for college,” she says. “That can amount to between $750 to $1,500 per month for a child born today, so it’s important to discover additional resources to fund education.”

 PSEO may not be the best choice for every student, though. “Our oldest chose not to do PSEO because it takes students out of the high school classroom, and away from friends and activities at the high school,” says Karla Juusola, “but our younger children weren’t particularly involved in high school activities. All of their extracurricular activities take place elsewhere, so it works for them. They are doing well."

Christina Boyd, managing director of investments at Merrill Lynch in Wayzata, recommends the following websites to help prepare for your child’s college education:

A college and career readiness platform that helps connect academic achievement to post-secondary goals. Its comprehensive college and career planning solutions optimize student success, enhance school counselor productivity, and track results for school and district administrators.

A nonprofit membership organization committed to excellence and equity in education. Its mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity.

PSEO information from the Minnesota Department of Education