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Program Expands College Opportunities at High School

September 7, 2021

More than 100 Northfield High School students managed to attend both high school and college last year, without leaving their regular classrooms. How did they do it? Through a new pilot partnership between the high school and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The concurrent enrollment pilot program allowed 108 students to take classes from Northfield High School teachers and receive both college and high school credit. Four classes were offered: Composition 101, German 3, French 3, and Spanish 4.

Counselor Mark Ensrud said it was the first time the program had been offered in Northfield, and participating students were overwhelmingly positive about the experience. 

“They said this was a manageable way to do a college-level course with teachers they already knew, or had a familiar connection to,” he said. “That’s what we really hoped for, that it would feel like they were taking a rigorous class with someone they felt supported by.”

Minnesota State has offered concurrent enrollment classes since at least 2006, and nearly 40 Minnesota high schools are expected to participate in the program in 2021-22. The program requires that the participating high school teachers have at least a master’s degree in the subject they are teaching. 

“It provides students with a nice transition. Instead of being dropped off in a new environment, at a campus in a city or town they’re not familiar with, they are able to experience the same rigor in the high school with their peers, students they know,” said Michael Altomari, director of postsecondary enrollment options at Minnesota State.

Although saving money on tuition is a benefit of the program, Altomari said he advises students and parents to make sure the courses the students take align with their future academic and career goals.

“What’s unique about the Northfield partnership is that they’re adamant that the courses are not just available to students, but that students are taking them purposefully,” he said.

For many years, Northfield High School students have earned college credits by taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes; others have earned them through the PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) program, which allows Minnesota students in grades 10-12 to take college classes online or in-person on a college campus. Ensrud said the idea to try the concurrent enrollment program in Northfield evolved out of a desire to offer a wider population of high school students the chance to take rigorous classes and earn college credits, while also providing them with support. 

“We felt like it was a good opportunity to partner with an institution like Mankato, where we do send a lot of students,” he said. “We can’t be more thankful to our high school staff members who chose to start a pilot partnership last year, of all years, and to the staff at Mankato.”

For the 2021-22 school year, three sections of Composition 101 will be offered to seniors, taught by two different teachers. Ensrud said language offerings have been put on hold while school officials work out a way to address differences between the university’s admissions standards and the ages of Northfield students taking advanced language courses (many level 3 language students are sophomores). Classes being considered for future years include public speaking, and financial literacy/personal finance.

Funding for the concurrent enrollment pilot program was provided by Northfield Promise through the StriveTogether Opportunity Fund.

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