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Linda Yang, Minnesota Daily, Published September 16 2012

Some high school students find early path to college

MINNEAPOLIS – Matt Peterson is not a typical incoming freshman. He’s further along academically than most.

Peterson, who is considering majoring in mechanical engineering, is a former Post Secondary Enrollment Option student and a University of Minnesota freshman with credits equivalent to a sophomore.

About 500 on-campus and 100 online distance-learning spots are available to PSEO students at the university. The school also partners with more than 100 high schools in 25 counties to bring College in the Schools to classrooms.

The precollege programs – CIS and PSEO – allow sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school to earn college credit by doing dual enrollment.

CIS authorizes high school teachers to instruct college-level classes to students in high school. Students receive college credit for completing those courses.

Susan Henderson, director of Precollege Programs at the College of Continuing Education, said the university doesn’t market to schools or teachers because of word of mouth.

“Teachers and principals know about it, learn about it, they hear about the professional development and they like to have University of Minnesota credit offered at their high school,” Henderson said.

The PSEO program was created after the Postsecondary Enrollment Options Act was passed in 1985. This act allows all Minnesota juniors and seniors the ability to take a part-time or full-time credit load at a public or private college, university or two-year vocational and training school. Tuition and books are paid for by the state.

Peterson said the program was helpful in preparing him for freshman year, mainly with scheduling and figuring out which major he wanted to pursue.

On the fence while picking a major, and after taking an engineering course, Peterson realized he “was better equipped for engineering than I thought I was.”

“That ended up being one of the reasons I was able to say, ‘Yes I want to do CSE (College of Science and Engineering), I want to do mechanical engineering,’ ” he said.

They don’t miss out.

Annamarie Rutledge, a senior at Central High School in St. Paul, started attending the university part time in her junior year of high school and switched to full time her senior year.

“I don’t regret doing it at all,” Rutledge said. “A lot of people think that they would. They wouldn’t have the high school experience or see their friends, but I started here, and I didn’t know anybody, but it’s been a great experience so far.”

Rutledge is on the board for the PSEO Student Association on campus. She said for PSEO students unsure of how to meet people, the PSEOSA tries to create social events twice a month and have weekly meetings open to other PSEO students.

Students often find it surprising how well they fit in, said Danielle Tisinger, PSEO program director.

A survey conducted in June 2011 by the CCE distributed to former PSEO students who were graduating seniors, showed all would recommend the PSEO program to high school students.

Other results were strong, with more than 80 percent responding the program helped them prepare for college, create better study habits and craft realistic expectations about college, and gave them confidence about succeeding in college.

High school junior Jonathan Murphy only has one year left after his senior year of high school before completing his undergraduate degree at the university.

Murphy, who attends Minnetonka High School, said the school didn’t offer enough advanced math and science courses, so he applied to PSEO at the university.

He said the application process was “nerve-wracking.”

“I thought I was a strong candidate,” Murphy said, “but I spent hours over my essays. I just kept going over them and over them, trying to make them perfect.”

Students afraid they will miss out on their high school years need not worry, said Peterson, who still attended major high school events, like dances.

“If you don’t want to miss your high school experience, there are ways you can still make sure that you get to all the important events, even if you are doing full-time PSEO.”