By Tom Larson
It appears more and more area high school students are taking advantage of an opportunity to get a head start on their college careers.
Morris Area High School Principal Mike Coquyt has brochures for district residents that reviews last year's successes in the College in the High School program.
This year, MAHS students will have college credit classes increase almost three-fold to 11 classes, and the district now offers 27 free college credits through the University of Minnesota, UMM and Southwest Minnesota State.
Coquyt said 83 students took at least one CIHS class during the 2007-2008 school year, which equates to about 600 college credits. A conservative estimate of $200 per credit means those MAHS families saved about $120,000 in tuition costs.
"It's a win-win situation, it really is," Coquyt said.
Through the program, high school juniors and seniors can take various classes for college-level credit or certification while remaining in their high school building and studying under their high school teachers.
This contrasts with the Post Secondary Education Option, through which high school students take classes on a college campus, with college students and under the tutelage of college professors.
"The biggest difference between (CIHS) and PSEO is that the kids stay in the high school," Coquyt said. "When students are here, we watch them. It's a family atmosphere -- we know when students aren't here, we know when they're not eating."
The program has been around for years, but initially involved students taking tests to prove proficiency in college-level material. In recent years, high-achieving students were given the chance to work with high school teachers approved to instruct them in college-level courses that also counted for high school credit. The classroom setting more closely matched the environment, workload and higher standards students would encounter once in college.
All this while saving money. One testimonial Coquyt collected from a district parent stated that the student earned 19 college credits, and now can move into a major course of study in college because so many general credit requirements had been satisfied.
The college-level course offerings including drawing, painting, college English, college speech, pre-calculus, psychology, animal science, Emergency Medical Technician and First Responder training, and a class on the Holocaust. Classes on medical terminology and society and law will be offered on-line.
To qualify for the class offerings, juniors must rank in the top one-third of their class, and seniors must rank in the top one-half of their class. Once they're completed the class, students receive a college transcript, which makes it easier to transfer the credits to a college, Coquyt said.
The college course offerings aren't intended as direct competition to PSEO, which was started in the 1980s by former Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich, Wolf said.
The PSEO program appeals to certain students; CIHS classes are designed for students who want to earn college and high school credits while remaining in their high school environment.
"I'm not saying PSEO doesn't have its place -- it does," Coquyt said. "Some students want that experience, and if a student wants to take a class we don't offer, by all means go PSEO. But if we're offering a class here that carries college credit, it makes no sense to leave the school."
If students are motivated by the chance to expand on their education, both they and their parents will enjoy the monetary rewards, as well, he said.
"You can't really put a dollar figure on it," Coquyt said. "You take the classes, you get into the workforce a year or two earlier and you probably will have less college debt. You can't put a dollar amount on that."
Coquyt said the large number of students taking CIHS classes this year will afford him the chance to track the seniors and the various colleges they attend to determine if they encounter any difficulties getting the CIHS credits to transfer.