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Continued: Minnesota students graduating high school with more college credit

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 29, 2014 - 10:21 AM

Jeff McGonigal, a district associate superintendent, started pushing for more college credit opportunities several years ago while he was principal at Coon Rapids High School. In the depths of the recession, when the unemployment rate for high school graduates was nearly double that for people with additional degrees, he knew that giving kids a solid high school education just wasn’t enough anymore, he said.

Everyone needed a postsecondary plan, be it in the Ivy League or at a tech school. And with costs skyrocketing, everyone could use some free college credit walking in the door, McGonigal said.

District educators began talking early and often with students about their postsecondary plans. “When freshmen come in, we start to talk to them about college,” said Anoka High principal Mike Farley.

The district also has all high school teachers, principals and counselors share their personal college paths on bulletin boards — not only the smooth stretches but the bumpy ones as well, like one principal’s “lost” first year at college and the grad school debt he’s still paying off.

Next year, Anoka High will launch a “Bridge to College” program, partnering with St. Cloud State University and Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Starting as high school freshmen, students will take “college foundation math,” a more rigorous arithmetic course designed to prepare them for college-level coursework. Sophomores will take college foundation English.

By their junior year, students will be ready for concurrent enrollment courses — classes held at the high school but approved by either St. Cloud State or Anoka-Ramsey for college credit.

“This is geared to meet kids in the middle,” McGonigal said. “We are not changing the college curriculum to meet their level. We are boosting them to be successful at the college level.”

The goal is to offer Bridge to College at the district’s five traditional high schools by 2015. This will be in addition to the other programs that allow college credit, including AP, IB and PSEO.

‘Save our kids millions’

Anoka is basing its program off one in the neighboring Mounds View School District. Irondale High School has a three-year-old “Early College” program — a mix of AP and concurrent enrollment classes through partnerships with Anoka-Ramsey and the University of Minnesota. Students can earn associate degrees in high school.

The number of students in the classes has more than doubled, from about 1,000 in 2011 to 2012 to 2,380 this year.

The district’s other high school, Mounds View, started Early College this year.

“We have 73 percent of our students in 10th through 12th grades enrolled in college credit learning courses,” said Irondale principal Scott Gengler. “It’s projected to save our kids millions of dollars. It’s also putting all students on pathways to postsecondary success.”

For Lauren Hince, the soon-to-be Blaine High alumna, the 12 AP and concurrent enrollment classes she took were grueling and time-consuming. But she also knew it was money in the bank, a major supplement to her part-time job at Office Max, and getting her ready for life after high school.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

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