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Number of high school students taking college courses skyrockets

While overall enrollment at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities has dipped, the number of high school students taking college level courses has doubled over the last decade.

Those themes surfaced during respective presentations that officials from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) and the University of Minnesota made Monday to the House Ways and Means Committee. No action was taken.

PSEO enrollment explodes

Several higher education advocates pointed to expanded post-secondary education options (PSEO) for high school students as one way to combat the college affordability issue. The popularity of that solution has increased dramatically both at the university and MnSCU in the past decade.

For example, PSEO headcount among MnSCU colleges and universities has grown by 65 percent from 18,501 in 2005 to 30,502 in 2014.

Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, gives members of the House Ways and Means Committee an overview on MnSCU budget and enrollment trends Feb. 23. Photo by Paul Battaglia

While traditional PSEO refers to the ability for high school students to enroll in courses at a college campus for credit while in high school, one of the emerging popular forms of PSEO has been concurrent enrollment — or “College in the Schools” - that allows students to take a college-level course on their high school campus. The courses are taught by a credentialed high school instructor and mentored by a college or university faculty member. Both traditional PSEO and concurrent enrollment are funded by the state. Tuition is allocated to the post-secondary institution that administers the course in which the high school student enrolls.

In 2005, about 10,000 students took advantage of concurrent enrollment courses administered by MnSCU. That number has exceeded 21,000 in 2014.

PSEO and concurrent enrollment numbers have nearly doubled at the University of Minnesota’s five campuses over the last 10 years. More than 1,400 high school students were enrolled in courses in some form in 2005. That number was at almost 2,700 in 2013.

Concurrent enrollment has been most beneficial to students in high schools that are not in close geographic proximity to college campuses, said Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal).

Economic recovery impact on MnSCU enrollment

Total enrollment across MnSCU’s seven universities and 24 two-year community and technical colleges peaked in 2010, but the system realized a 22,000-student drop in total enrollment from 2013 to 2014. Among students enrolled in credit courses, enrollment decreased by nearly 8,000 over the same period.

Those decreases reflect a common trend in post-secondary education, where enrollment has a counter-cyclical relationship to economic conditions, said Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.

“As the unemployment rate in Minnesota now dropped down to about 3.6 percent, students who in the past might have been preparing for a career, can go out in the marketplace and very successfully find work,” Rosenstone said. “That drop in unemployment of course has been very steep, but there has been enrollment consequences for our colleges in particular, and to some extent, our universities.”

U of M stats

The roller coaster economy wasn’t as impactful on enrollment numbers at the University of Minnesota over the last decade.

While total enrollment across its undergraduate, graduate and professional programs has experienced a slight decrease since its 10-year peak in 2011-12, the 63,853 university students in 2013-14 is still higher than the 10-year low enrollment of 59,734 in 2005-06.

The number of enrolled graduate and professional degree seekers at the university experienced a 10-year low last year with 17,861 – almost 2,000 fewer people than there were in 2007-08.


Some additional enrollment provided by MnSCU and University of Minnesota officials:


  • 410,000 students attend one of 31 colleges or universities (7 universities, 24 two-year community and technical colleges)
  • 264,000 in credit classes
  • 146,000 in non-credit programs 


Diversity of student body

  • 52,000 first-generation students
  • 62,000 American Indian students or students of color
  • 99,000 low-income (Pell grant eligible) students
  • 11,000 veterans enrolled
  • Average age of student is 26
  • 38 percent are 25 or older


2013-14 enrollment

  • Total: 63,853 (undergraduate, graduate, professional and non-degree seeking)
  • 10-year high was 2011-12 (64,518)
  • 10-year low was 2006-07 (59,734)

Undergraduate students: 43,294

  • 10-year peak for undergraduates was 2011-12: 44,046
  • 10-year low was 2004-05: 39,124

PSEO/concurrent enrollment: 2,698

  • That's nearly double the 2004-05 mark of 1,432
  • Graduate/professional/continuing education: 17,861 (10-year low)
  • 10-year peak was 2007-08 (19,745)




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