by Joe Nathan
Mindi Askelson of Riverland Community College calls it a "win-win-win" collaboration. Scott Gengler of Irondale High School in Mounds View District reports it's "very rewarding." John McDonald of Kingsland School District believes it's "a better way of meeting student and family needs."
"It" is the encouraging, growing collaboration between high schools and colleges providing greater challenge for students, while saving them and their families thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars. Before graduating from high school, students earn free college credits, even a one-year career/technical certificate or two -year Associate Arts degree.
Bob Wedl, former Minnesota commissioner of education, recently recommended in a newspaper commentary that we should: "Abandon the 20th-century goal that high school graduates must be ready for postsecondary. The 21st-century goal must be that students will be well on their way to what they intend to do next with their lives when they exit high school. A redesigned system will have many students already completing a year of postsecondary learning or even an associate degree. Others will have completed their one-year career certifications."
Last year I described a collaboration between Central Lakes College in Brainerd and the Long Prairie/Grey Eagle School District. Students can earn enough credits in the high school to receive an A.A. degree before graduation. Principal Paul Weinzierl explained: "This not only helps us retain the funds, but also the leadership that some students take with them if they participate in Post-Secondary Enrollment Options."
That 1985 law allows Minnesota 11th and 12th graders to take courses on college campuses, or "online" courses, full or part time, with state funds paying their tuition, books and lab fees. Last year, PSEO was expanded. Tenth graders now may take a career/technical course on a college campus. Sophomores earning a "C" or higher, may take additional career/technical courses during their second semester.
Last year U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited and praised Irondale High School, which built on Long Prairie/Grey Eagle/Central Lakes collaboration. Scott Gengler, Irondale principal, told me "the biggest takeaway so far is that we have far more kids capable of college level rigor than have participated (in dual high school/college credit courses) in the past."
This means, for example, that some Irondale ninth graders take Advanced Placement courses. Others start in the 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Some also take "Dual enrollment courses" developed in collaboration with Anoka-Ramsey Community College. The school also has students taking "foundational classes" that help prepare them to take college level academic and or career technical classes.
Doing well means earning college credits. Taking challenging courses also decreases changes students will have to take remedial courses on entering a post-secondary institution. This is a huge, costly problem. A report completed several years ago showed that at that time, more than half of the students entering the Minnesota's two year public colleges had to take at least one remedial course in reading, writing or math.
Richard Rosivac, in his 15th year of teaching, helps coordinate Irondale's program. For him, "this is not just about access, it's about results." He reported that approximately 53 percent of the school's 1,631 students are enrolled in one or more Dual Credit courses. "We expect that percentage to grow," he said.
Meanwhile, at Kingsland High School, Superintendent John McDonald says about half of the high school's 102 juniors and seniors are in one or more Dual Credit courses. Starting fall, 2013, juniors can take enough courses to earn an A.A. Degree before high school graduation. Students are taking both "Project Lead the Way" (applied "STEM") courses, and courses from Riverland Community COllege.
Mindi Askelson, Riverland's director of placement and K-12 relations, explained the partnership with Kingsland, and a growing number of other high schools. Riverland faculty members are training and mentoring high school teachers to offer the college level courses. Riverland faculty also offers college level courses "on-line" and via television. She explained, "Providing a seamless transition between high school and college is one of the strategic values of the MnSCU system."
For most students, this will mean taking college level courses while staying in their high school. However, as Askelson notes, " for those academically and socially ready, we host Post-Secondary Options students on campus."
Minnesota's Department of Education, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are actively promoting these collaborations. So is the University of Minnesota system.
Askelson is right. These are win-win-win collaborations.