Visionaries are helping Long Prairie-Grey Eagle students earn a two-year college degree

They call it “4 for 2” and I call it “brilliant.”

“They” are Long Prairie Grey Eagle (LPGE) High School Principal Paul Weinzierl and Central Lakes College President Larry Lundblad. Their program saves students and families $20,000 to $30,000, by allowing high school students, taking classes in their high school, to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a two-year, associate arts (AA) degree. Over the last two school years, 30 students have done this. About two thirds of the high school’s approximately 180 juniors and seniors have earned at least some college credit.

Weinzierl explained that the name comes from the fact that students can earn both a four-year high school and two-year college degree. Students are able to start taking a college level course in 10th grade (advanced placement biology). Many students in the “4+2” program started with this class.

Long Prairie/Grey Eagle also offers some college level vocational courses on its campus, such as welding. Weinzierl says “we hope to offer more in the future.”

The “4+2” began about four years ago when a student discussed taking advanced courses on a college campus. Weinzierl thought this would be “cumbersome,” and also hoped that the school could develop a program encouraging students to stay in the high school, rather than participate in Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

Moreover, “The nearest college is about an hour away, so students taking PSEO would be taking not only funds, but also their leadership skills,” he said.

For about a year, Central Lakes trained high school faculty in Long Prairie – Grey Eagle so they could offer some college-level courses. Weinzierl said, “We have the same syllabus and, in most cases, the same book (as is used at Central Lakes). Central Lakes was wonderful to work with; they are really collaborative.”

Lundblad notes that the high school “had the vision. I applaud them. We were glad to help.”

Though other nearby high schools have not asked for an identical program, Central Lakes has worked with a number of others to develop College in the Schools courses, courses taught through an “Instructional Television” consortium and Post Secondary Options courses on campus. Lundblad said that about 45 area high school students earned AA degrees last year, along with students who took some classes.

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota commissioner of education, gave the commencement address at Long Prairie – Grey Eagle this year and helped confer the associate degrees. She told me, “Long Prairie/Grey Eagle is leading the way in creating expanded college access and rigor to their students by forging rich partnerships with Central Lakes College. This is the way of the future. LPGE is showing us all that it is possible … this kind of innovation … will transform how we think about college and high school and make grades 11-14 much more relevant, fluid and integrated.”

Recently, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) featured a Texas school district serving mostly low-income Spanish-speaking students that has a similar program. Superintendent Daniel King started it. Here’s a link to the program: http://learningmatters.tv/blog/on-pbs-newshour/watch-early-                                                  college-hs-in-south-texas/ 10190/

PBS reporter John Merrow said the program has dramatically reduced the district’s dropout rate. The program also helped many youngsters from low-income families not only enter college, but also earn a two-year degree.

Weinzierl, King and Lundblad are practical visionaries.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centeforschool change.org

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