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For some students, going to college in high school makes sense

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Ask Ariane Norrgard if she’s happy that she chose to complete her last two years of high school as a full-time college student, and she doesn’t have to take any time to consider her answer.

“Very, very, very happy,” said the now 24-year-old Norrgard about Minnesota’s Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), the program that allows high school students to take courses at participating colleges and receive both high school and transferable college credit.

Now studying for a master’s degree in sociology, Norrgard said she feels like she had it all as a PSEO student.

“I was able to do high school sports and PSEO. I was a college student [at the University of Minnesota-Duluth] with my classes but socially I was still in high school,” she said. “I stayed in sports. I went to prom. And I did activities in the community that kept me close to friends.”

Norrgard reckons she saved herself and her parents about $35,000 (in tuition, fees and rent) by choosing PSEO both her junior and senior years in high school.

PSEO isn’t new. Enacted in 1985 in Minnesota, PSEO is a state-funded program. Qualified juniors and seniors are allowed — after going through an application process with their high school counselor and a college participating in the PSEO program — to take up to a full load of college courses and earn credit for both college and high school at the same time. In this area, participating colleges include UMD, the College of Saint Scholastica (CSS) and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC). High schools lose funding for the students who chose PSEO — instead it goes to the chosen university.

The Cloquet Public Library is holding a free open meeting about PSEO at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 13, for parents and students with university representatives explaining PSEO in general and their programs specifically in the meeting room.

Ariane’s mother, Lorraine Norrgard, liked the program so much that she is still an intense advocate, and is willing to talk to any parents whose children might be considering PSEO.

Having said that, she doesn’t think it’s the best choice for every high school student.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Lorraine said, adding that she and her husband, Phil, set very clear guidelines for their kids in terms of curfews and behavior because they were going to be around older students. “It’s not for everyone, but for those who it fits, it’s extraordinary.”

When Ariane and her older brother Burgess went through the PSEO program, they were fairly unique. In fact, Ariane was the only student in her class at Cloquet High School who did PSEO. (She chose UMD for both years, while Burgess did his first year at UMD and his second year at CSS.) This year at Cloquet High School, there are at least 13 seniors in the program and five juniors. (Sixteen are doing full-time PSEO and two are doing part-time, taking classes classes at both a university and the high school.)

Cloquet High School senior and UMD PSEO student Aliya Hamann found out about the program from her cousins and her high school counselor.

“I love it,” said Hamann, who is in her second semester of PSEO at UMD and taking Introduction to Physics, College Writing, Finite Mathematics and Introduction to Calculus. “I had planned to do it my junior year, but a lot of my friends were seniors so I wanted to spend time with them, so I decided to do it my senior year.”

For Hamann, who plans to major in accounting, doing PSEO allowed her to take classes toward her major that weren’t available through the regular College in High School classes at CHS. And the former home-school student was more than ready to try something different.

When asked, Hamann said she loves PSEO because it is more challenging and because she now has a lot more time because college classes meet less frequently.

“Last year, the curriculum [at high school] wasn’t really challenging for me,” she said. “When I was home schooled, I taught myself a lot of the time, so I found I could do all my homework at high school and be done with the class and the teacher would still be talking.”

Enrollment in PSEO wasn’t difficult, she said, explaining that she and her parents had to fill out some paperwork and turn it into the high school counselor, who then sent her application on to UMD. She met with PSEO counselors there and found out what classes she could take (not all college classes are available through PSEO).

Hamann is still involved in the National Honor Society and the Senior Executive Board at CHS, and still sees her friends. She may run high school track this spring (if the snow ever melts!).

The cost is the last thing she lists when asked about the benefits of PSEO.

“I don’t pay for anything, just gas and parking,” she said.

Even the textbooks — which are rented through the university — are free.

For Ariane, the extra time was huge, both the time that she gained while she was a PSEO student and extra two years of her life that she didn’t have to spend getting her bachelor’s degree.

“Doing PSEO actually gives more free time to do extra-curricular activities. For me that was professional horseback riding,” said the dressage rider. “I was also a musician, so it gave me time to explore my artistic strengths as well.”

At the same time, Ariane still participated in all the same high school sports: cross country running, Nordic skiing and track. Her brother , Burgess, used his extra time to train as a Nordic Combined athlete (ski jumping and Nordic skiing) and he eventually participated in the Junior Olympics.

Burgess — who just turned 30 — is now finishing a residency program for rural family medical practice in Billings, Mont., after getting his undergraduate degree from CSS and going to medical school at UMD.

After graduating from UMD at age 20, Ariane joined AmeriCorps for a year, then traveled in Africa and worked in AIDS clinics there, eventually landing a job with a non-governmental organization that was running an AIDS counseling clinic. After that she worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the Duluth flood cleanup and now she’s in graduate school, studying to be a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker at UMD.

“I do suggest that PSEO students pick a university and stay with that university, because you get to know the professors you’re going to be working with at a young age,” Ariane said.

She doesn’t think it’s necessary to have determined a major before enrolling.

“It’s actually a really good way to explore your interests [and not pay a lot of money] before you pick a major,” she said.

So what kind of student will do well in PSEO?

Someone who doesn’t need the structure that high school provides anymore and who has enough self-discipline to get the coursework done outside of class, Hamann advised.

“There’s no reason a normal high school shouldn’t do PSEO,” Ariane said. “You just have to be better with time management and a little smarter about how you study for your classes.”

Her mom is more skeptical.

“It’s not for everyone,” Lorraine said. “If you’re struggling in high school, it’s not for you.

“Also some kids feel their social life or a team sport is too important [or too difficult to manage]. It’s whatever works for you. I just want people to know that it’s an option.”