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Students seek low cost, high flexibility educational experiences

On Tuesday, April 16, students from Morris Area High School and the Universtiy of Minnesota, Morris met with Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Department of Higher Education (far right, backwards) and Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education (center, backwards) to discuss education options. (Kim Ukura/Sun Tribune)

MORRIS – Although academic programs are important, the cost of college remains an important consideration for students and their families.

Students from Morris Area High School and the University of Minnesota, Morris expressed their concerns about both high school and college education during a round table discussion with Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, and Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, at UMM on Tuesday.

“We've been asked to visit with direct consumers of eduction, meaning go past the adults and get to students and talk to them directly and listen about if we're talking about the right things at the state capitol,” Pogemiller said as he opened the meeting.

For most of the students, the cost of college played a role in their decision about where to go and how to proceed with their college plans after they were accepted. However, academic programs and “fit” were still a big part of their calculations.

“What came to drive my decision was, first of all, was it a good academic fit?” said MAHS senior Michael Anderson, who will be attending Jamestown College in North Dakota this fall. “From there, I played the game for scholarships to see what would be most affordable.”

MAHS senior Brooke Wente said location and opportunities were the major factors in her decision to attend University of Minnesota, Twin Cities to study agriculture education, communication and leadership this fall.

“I tried not to let the financial piece be a factor in my decision because I figured that I need to focus on my education and you can't really put a price on the people you're going to meet,” said Wente. “I thought that the University of Minnesota was going to provide the most opportunities.”

Leslie Johnson, a UMM freshman from Webster, S.D., said she chose to come to Morris because her siblings also attended and the small town feel reminded her of home, but “price was definitely a seller for me going to Morris.”

The students also discussed educational activities that are outside the traditional high school and college curriculum including taking college classes as a high school student and online classes.

Although still in high school, Anderson is a full time student at UMM through the Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. Anderson said he first started classes at UMM because he wanted to take calculus, a class MAHS does not offer, but that scheduling makes it difficult to take classes at the high school at UMM.

Wente said she almost used PSEO to take a Spanish class at UMM, but decided not to after she realized that she would miss a class she was interested in taking back at MAHS.

Instead, both Wente and UMM senior Kaylee Brandt helped get a jump on college through College in the Schools (CIS), a program that allows juniors and seniors to take college-level classes at their high school.

Other students said they had been discouraged from participating in PSEO classes explicitly or through financial disincentives like being ineligible for donor-funded scholarships or taken out of the class ranking system.

“Our teachers would speak to our classes about how there were students in the past who failed because they weren't prepared for the challenges,” Brendan Stermer, a senior from Montevideo, Minn., said. Stermer is attending UMM full time as a PSEO student.

Several UMM students also praised online classes as a way to fit in more credits in a more relaxing environment.

“It makes it a lot easier to fit more classes into your schedule if you choose to do that because it's on your own schedule,” said Tori McDougald, a UMM transfer student from Boston. “I've almost learned more from that class than some classes I've had in classroom experiences because it allows you to work at your own pace throughout the week yet you're still keeping up with a large group of classmates.”

When asked what the one message they would like to pass on to government leaders, their suggestions ranged from more support for PSEO programs and student organizations to making higher education more affordable for students.

“Higher education has enormous positive externality, whether just for the person involved or society as a whole so any way to make college more affordable so you're not discouraging people by giving them this burdening amount of debt, will be a benefit,” said Anderson.