New high school/college collaborations are win-win-win

Nathan-on-Education-newMindi Askelson of Riverland Community College calls it a “win-win-win” collaboration. Scott Gengler of Irondale High School in Mounds View 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” (AA) 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 (CLC) in Brainerd and the Long Prairie/Grey Eagle School District. Students can earn enough credits in the high school to receive an AA degree before graduation. Principal Paul Weinzierl said, “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 (PSEO).”

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/CLC 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.” Some Irondale ninth graders take Advanced Placement courses. Doing well means earning college credits. The school also has students taking “foundational classes” that help prepare them to take college level academic and or career technical classes. Their primary partner is Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

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.”

Meanwhile, at Kingsland High School, Supt. John McDonald said 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 AA degree before high school graduation.

Mindi Askelson, Riverland’s director of placement and K-12 school 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 “online” and via television. She said, “Providing a seamless transition between high school and college is one of the strategic values of the MnSCU system … for those academically and socially ready, we host Post-Secondary Options students on campus.”

Askelson is right. These are win-win-win collaborations.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, e-mail [email protected].