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

Are they really ready for college? (Nine is the Magic Number via Flickr)
Are they really ready for college? (Nine is the Magic Number via Flickr)

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:

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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 College, said 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.