Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - December 26, 2001

School looks to add college credit classes

By Michael Jacobson

Minutes after the student advisory council from Paynesville Area High School reiterated the need for the school to offer more advanced classes, the school board heard a proposal from the high school English department to add college credit classes through an arrangement with Southwest State University (SSU) in Marshall.

The school board meets with the student advisory council twice a year. The board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, was held in the afternoon at the middle school to accommodate the meeting between the board and the students.

One of the item on the high school students' list was to offer advanced placement classes or classes for college credit. The difference, explained high school principal John Janotta, is that advanced placement courses rely on a test at the end to determine what, if any, college credit should be given. College credit classes are done in partnership with a specific college.

Six or seven technology classes at PAHS already can count for credit at the St. Cloud Technical College, Janotta added. And, a couple years ago, one student earned 15 college credits through the College Level Evaluation Program, a testing program, he said.

One problem with that, noted board member Gretchen O'Fallon after finding that the student advisory council members didn't know about this option, was that students were largely unaware of it.

The English department looked at college credit classes through St. Cloud State University and the University of Minnesota, but found them poorly compatible with the department's curriculum for Honors English, a class for juniors and seniors.

More recently, the English teachers examined the program at Southwest State and found it more flexible and the staff more friendly. English teachers Amy Flanders, Deb Ficek, and Michelle Andersen liked the syllabi for the Southwest courses, particularly the writing requirements. Andersen previously worked with college credit classes through Southwest State while teaching at Windom.

The two college credit classes they recommended to the board were: Fundamentals of College Writing and Rhetoric: The Essay and Critical Writing. The first is a four-credit class and the second is three.

A college credit class could be done every semester, but the English teachers would like to teach one class a year in Honors English, which already has a two-year curriculum. This way the class could keep some of its literature component while adding the college credit. There is a graduation standard on literature that is offered in Honors English, noted Flanders.

Professors from the college would visit PAHS, grade every third paper, and would work with the high school teachers to help the class meet the expectations of the college. From her previous experience, Andersen testified that it was great working with the SSU staff.

Paying for it
The challenge for the district is the cost, which would have to be picked up by the school. Tuition for the college credit class would be $50 per student per credit hour or $200 per student for a four-credit class and $150 per student for a three-credit class. Because the class would be offered by the high school as part of its curriculum, they could not pass the costs onto students, according to superintendent Howard Caldwell.

The college credit classes would also require new textbooks at a cost of $50 per student. Enough books for the entire Honors English class would be needed because the students who took the class for college credit would still be in the same room with the other students who did not. Teachers would have additional work in meeting the college requirements while not requiring as much from students who just wanted high school credit.

The total cost to the district could be several thousand dollars in startup expenses for the textbooks, though the books would be used for at least three years, plus the yearly tuition based on the number of participants.

Where the money comes to pay for this program is by keeping juniors and seniors from pursuing Post Secondary Educational Opportuni-ties at other colleges and keeping them enrolled at PAHS. "The only reason why you talk about it at that you wonder if you would keep any post-secondary students from leaving," said Janotta.

Based on the state's foundation aid, a high school student is worth over $5,000 per year in revenue to the district. In 1999-00, the high school had three students pursue post-secondary options. In 2000-01, it lost the equivalent of four students. In 2001-02, it may lose six students for the second semester, an equivalent of three students for the full year.

"Is it economically feasible to do?" asked Janotta. "If you save one student, you would (pay for it)."

Janotta conducted an informal survey of the students who were considering enrolling at a college for the spring semester and found that most would think about staying at PAHS if it offered college credit classes. "It's going to be difficult to measure," warned Caldwell of following the finances of such a program. "We'll probably never be able to say this person stayed for this course."

One college credit class might not be enough to keep interested juniors and seniors from enrolling elsewhere. Southwest State also has college credit classes in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and social science, but offering more would require teachers who were willing to do more.

This connected with another request from the student advisory committee: to offer algebra to eighth grade students who were ready for it and allow them to get a jump start on more advanced math. While this might be accomplished by having middle school students take algebra with mostly ninth grade classes, these students then would run out of math classes before they graduated, a void a college credit math class might fill.

Board chairman Pat Flanders enthusiastically embraced the idea of offering college credit classes in English. Despite his wife being the department chair, he said that he found out about the proposal when he opened his school board agenda. "It's time to start," he explained. "Despite the fact that we need to cut a huge amount of money, we need to enter this area."

Incoming board members Mark Dingmann and Allen Schmidt also enthusiastically supported the proposal, nodding their heads vigorously from the audience. Dingmann and Schmidt (along with Tami Stanger) will take their seats on the board at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

A decision about the proposal could be made then, which would allow the high school teachers and administration enough time to include the college credit class in the registration offerings given to high school students in February.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community