The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 9, 2013

St. James students get a jump on college classes at high school

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST. JAMES — St. James High School senior Emily Hurley got a jump on college last year, taking three college classes through Minnesota State University.

But unlike the traditional Post-Secondary Educational Options Program — in which high school juniors and seniors actually leave their high schools to essentially begin college early free of charge — Hurley opted to stay a student at St. James High School. She’s in sports year-round, she’s in theater, she’s in the National Honor Society, and she’s saving thousands of dollars on general education credits that she would have paid for had she waited to attend college after high school.

“I think I could have made it work (going PSEO), but I think, looking back at it now, I’m happy that I did stay here,” Hurley said.

St. James High School is part of a growing trend to encourage dual enrollment in both high school and college courses, which keeps students at their high schools while still giving them a jump-start on college, said Principal Ted Simon. Like with PSEO, the college courses are free to students but are taught by certified high school teachers.

The program is so popular in St. James that, in 2012, 42 of 83 seniors (about 51 percent) were taking the college courses offered at the school, Simon said. In 2011, it was 45 of 92 students, or about 49 percent.

Hurley is a great example of why St. James High has been pushing dual enrollment over PSEO. Simon said the seniors are the leaders of the school, they add a great deal to the school’s culture, and the school doesn’t want to lose them early.

“We want to keep our kids here,” Simon said. “A lot of our students are in activities — band and choir, in sports — and they participate in the everyday activities of being in school.”

MSU classes are held during the regular school day, intermixed with high school classes throughout the day. Classes offered include College Psychology, English 101, English 110, College Algebra, College Geography and College Speech, among others.

Students have the option of completing up to 28 college credits, which can transfer to a number of colleges and universities, Simon said. That can save families and students thousands of dollars in college tuition costs.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Hurley, who is taking several more college courses this year. “My parents are going to be helping me with some of it, but overall, I’m going to be paying for my own education. Every little bit helps.”

Simon said the program is most popular with seniors.

“They’re thinking about college a little more as a senior, of course,” he said.

Statistics show that Latina and Latino students in the U.S. are less likely to go to a college or university. And Simon thinks, with St. James’ high Latina/Latino population, the dual enrollment option is encouraging more minority students to take college classes.

“One of the things we’ve put a focus on is making sure all of our students — Caucasian, Hispanic, Latino, etc. — are looking past high school,” Simon said. “And when we say post-secondary, that doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year university.”

For students considering technical colleges or trade schools, the high school also offers “articulation agreements,” which allow credits for certain high school courses, such as agronomy or plant science for example, to transfer to those schools depending upon the field of study.

Hurley does plan to matriculate to a four-year university. She’s planning on attending Winona State University in the fall. When she gets there, she’ll have a number of her general education requirements completed, including College Geography, Intro to Social Welfare, College Psychology, College Spanish, a couple of English classes and College Sociology.

She’ll also have a good idea of the work load involved in being a college freshman.

“I thought it was a good idea because college is going to be stressful,” she said. “They expect more out of you.”