Avoiding college debt by pursuing PSEOP

In 1965, having graduated in the upper 90 percent of my class, I left high school and matriculated to Ohio University. The cost was $225 per semester, or $450 for the entire year, plus books and applicable fees. Many of us struggled to pay it.

Contrast that with today’s aspiring Bobcats, who will have to come up with something in the neighborhood of $10,000 a year in tuition for the same privilege; out-of-staters will be charged about double that amount. Adding in books, room and board, and pizza runs the annual tally well beyond $21,000 for Ohio residents.

Tuition is not the only thing that costs more since 1965: a loaf of bread was 21 cents back then; the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 969; average price for a new home was $13,600; the average new car was $2,650; a gallon of gasoline was 21 cents; postage stamps were a nickel and the average annual income was $6,450.

Students’ post-secondary education costs across the country have generally increased on much the same trajectory, typically varying by the amount of taxpayer subsidy from state to state, and there is every indication that the trend will continue unabated.

One result of today’s higher college costs is that student loan debt has grown to crisis levels and many may never repay them. They stay with you like a bad habit. What’s even worse is that the payments and interest on student loans, rather than being used to replenish the loan fund, are being diverted to help pay for the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), where the Federal student loan program is now housed.

In Ohio, though, students can reduce the rapidly rising cost of college by half or more, and for two-year college degree programs, they can eliminate the cost altogether. They can also avoid borrowing for at least two years.

Ohio’s Post-Secondary Options Program (PSEOP) allows many higher performing high school students and their families to let their state education funding follow them into college for two years, usually in 11th and 12th grade. For exceptionally high performing youngsters, limited college classes can also be taken in 9th and 10th grade. All books and fees are included. All two-year and four-year public colleges and some vocational and related training institutions are open to program participants.

Children who are home schooled can also qualify. In all cases, parents are responsible for arranging transportation. Students may also return to their schools to participate in extracurricular, curricular and athletics activities. The dual enrollment option within the program means that athletics eligibility at NCAA colleges remains fully intact and students can graduate and complete commencement programs with their high school classmates.

Beyond the financial savings and reduced need for college loans, the program provides students with the opportunity to take on more challenging academic situations, finish a two-year degree by the time they graduate high school and complete a four-year degree in only two years after high school. In addition, graduate and professional schools are two years nearer and access to the workforce can come two years sooner.

For taxpayers and students alike, the usual eight years of combined high school and college can be appropriately and productively telescoped into six years or less, along with the concomitant reduction in taxpayer-paid support for those extra two years. Everybody involved can get eight years’ worth of value in only six years.

A benefit beyond the cost and time saving, though, is the expanded range of challenging educational choices being offered to those students for whom college is a better fit than high school. Many are often finished with high school long before high school is finished with them. In fact, you may have been one of those students during your stay in high school.

Ohio law requires that all public schools offer acceleration within the curriculum to the most able students at all grade levels and PSEOP has been one of the most productive alternatives for the last twenty years. Though it is not the best fit for everyone, it was a good match for the more than 20,000 Ohio high school students who earned at least a year of college credit last year. (Let me find my slide rule: that’s 20,000 students X $10,000 per year with no new or additional taxpayer costs incurred..eight years education finished in six years..minus two years of opportunity lost cost per student.).

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein or Harry Houdini to compress eight years into six, or to qualify for the program. You do, though, have to work hard, plan ahead and live in Ohio.

Editor’s note: Dr. Terry Wallace holds Senior Fellowships at the Institute for Innovation in Education at West Liberty University, the West Virginia Public Policy Foundation and recently presented information on state healthcare issues at the Cato Institute symposium in Albuquerque, NM.