Park Rapids Area High School (PRAHS) academic advisor Vicki Schroeder reported to the school board on Monday, Oct. 4 about three options for students seeking college credit before graduation.

PSEO pros and cons

First, Schroeder discussed the post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO), in which high school juniors and seniors may attend college full-time while simultaneously earning credits toward high school graduation.

Schroeder said a sophomore may take a career and technical education (CTE) course during the fall semester to explore career interests outside the core curriculum.

For example, she said, “I might be interested in going into radiology, so I take an intro class to see what it’s like. It’s not the kind of class that’s going to help to earn an AA degree.”

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If this exploratory class goes well, she said, the sophomore may take more CTE classes during the second semester.

Juniors and seniors may then enroll full-time in the college of their choice, to attend either online or in person. Schroeder said they must be accepted by the college and must notify the high school by May 31 to allow the school to plan curriculum and staffing.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said the school loses 88% of its state formula funding for these students. However, the state pays for their college tuition, fees and books, Schroeder said. The students may also live on campus at their own expense.

Advantages of taking the PSEO route, she said, include earning an associate degree by the time they graduate high school, being able to participate in high school activities if they are living at home, earning a high school diploma and saving money on college.

As for disadvantages, Schroeder said, high school students taking college courses tend to see their grade point average (GPA) go down, potentially losing scholarships and valedictorian or salutatorian status.

When asked if that’s OK with them, many students considering the PSEO track say yes, Schroeder said, “because the money I save now will make up for that scholarship I may not win later.”

Also, she said, they don’t get to spend time with their high school friends, have limited course choices because they also have to meet high school graduation requirements, and may face tougher college-level versions of those required classes, such as economics.

Principal Jeff Johnson said a nearby school district found that the average PSEO student loses one full GPA point. “The rigor is tougher,” he said. “It’s at a different level.”

Schroeder said most PSEO students take all their courses online, which also limits their contact with college peers, and the high school is not contacted if the students aren’t doing well in their classes.

“They are the student of the college,” said Schroeder. “They still get a diploma for us, but they have a counselor over there; they have someone that helps them with their classes; they have tutors over there. And so, if they’re not doing well in a class, we don’t know until we get the grades.”

Schroeder said there are currently four PRAHS students taking the PSEO.

College in the High School

In contrast, the College in the High School (CIHS) program, also known as concurrent enrollment, allows juniors and seniors to take classes for college credit at the high school with local teachers.

Schroeder said the school partners with Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State), with physics credits running through Bemidji State University and Central Lakes College providing band credit.

Teachers must have a master’s degree in their subject area and be accredited by the college or university, she said.

Johnson said grants are available for teachers to earn the credits needed to qualify as college instructors.

To take CIHS, Schroeder said, students must apply and be accepted by the college, with a minimum GPA of 3.5 for juniors and 2.8 for seniors. Courses follow a semester schedule and range from 1 to 4 credits.

Schroeder said the CIHS program’s advantages to students include smaller class sizes, allowing more individual attention from teachers the students know in an interactive, in-person format. Also, the school provides the books and there is no cost to the student.

Meanwhile, she said, advantages to the school include keeping students local along with all of their state formula funding; using the district’s highly trained staff to offer college courses that other districts cannot; the help and support of the colleges; and real-time monitoring of students’ grades, allowing high school staff to intervene if needed.

Schroeder estimated at least 50 Park Rapids students are now earning college credit through CIHS, with 32 kids taking college algebra, two sections of college English and an anatomy class filled to its 20-student capacity.

The eCampus option

Schroeder said M State Detroit Lakes’ eCampus program allows students to take both CIHS classes in the high school classroom and additional online college classes.

“If we have a couple of motivated students who want to get that AA degree by the time they graduate from high school, we can do that through this option,” she said.

The program was first offered in Park Rapids during the fall of 2020, Schroeder said. Three students tried it then; 13 are participating so far this year, taking up to three eCampus classes.

She explained that for each eCampus class, students have a “college hour” during the school day to work on their Chromebooks in the media center’s “aquarium” space.

“They still have lunch with their friends,” said Schroeder. “They still have classes with their peers and the teachers they know. They also have this online option, too. So, it’s kinda the best of both worlds.”

She said the school pays $125 per credit and buys the students’ books, which they return when finished with the course. Meanwhile, the school retains full funding for the students.

Advantages to the student, she said, include that their GPA does not tend to go down, the potential to earn an AA degree by graduation, enjoying high school campus life, blending in-person and online classes and notifying the school if a student is falling behind.

“They still have some support here,” said Schroeder. “If they’re stuck in a class, they can still run to a science teacher and ask them a question.”

She said feedback about eCampus has been positive, with the most popular classes being psychology, sociology, medical terminology and western civilization.

Summary and questions

Schroeder and Johnson fielded questions from the school board, confirming for example that PSEO students remain in the running for valedictorian and salutatorian and graduate with their high school class.

Schroeder said most of the school’s current PSEO students are attending M State, but they can choose any two- or four-year college. Johnson said past PSEO students have gone to Concordia-Moorhead, Bemidji State and Moorhead State.

Asked how the students learn about these options, Schroeder said staff talks about them during spring registration, sends emails to the students and holds meetings for interested students. She added that the eCampus option isn’t on the school’s website yet because “it’s so new.”