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Students earn college credits, save money

February 17, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - In Fairmont, there are two well-known colleges - Presentation College and Minnesota West Community and Technical College. But for a select number of students, there is one other place to earn college credits. Fairmont Area High School.

Scott Geerdes and Jenny Schwieger, guidance counselors at Fairmont Area, say juniors and seniors have the option of earning credits through College in the Classroom courses, Advanced Placement classes, Post-Secondary Educational Opportunities, and Articulation Agreement certificates.

More than 40 percent of juniors and seniors take advantage of the opportunity, potentially saving themselves a year of college and an average $10,000 in tuition costs.

That benefits taxpayers as well.

For College in the Classroom, offered through Minnesota West, the teachers are Fairmont Area employees who have a master's degree in their subject and have had their class syllabus approved by Minnesota West. Classes are taught at the high school and students must earn a "C" to qualify for credit.

Classes offered in this program are statistics, calculus, Honors English 12, speech, fundamentals of music, and chemistry.

Advanced Placement classes also occur at the high school, with qualified teachers. But it isn't the grade a student earns that gets him or her the college credit; it is passing an AP test at the end of the year.

There are five classes offered as AP: Honors English 12, calculus, statistics, American history 11, and European history.

You may have noticed that a few of the classes are offered both as AP and CIC offerings - but they aren't being doubled up. Teachers can have both AP students and College in the Classroom students in the same room, being taught the same curriculum. The difference is in the party bestowing the credit - Minnesota West gives CIC students their credit. For AP, credits can be collected from another college when the AP certificate is presented.

Geerdes said some students double up on the credits, others don't.

Another option for college credit offered in Fairmont is PSEO. These students don't take the classes at their high school - they go off to college, just like a student who has graduated, but their credits count for both college and high school.

Most take classes right here in Fairmont at our local colleges, but some choose to take advantage of a university away from home.

All Minnesota institutions are available to students choosing this option.

For all three college credit options, students must meet academic requirements for eligibility. And if a student wants to go off and live in a dorm, parents are brought in and the option is discussed, with special focus on the particular challenges a 16- or 17-year-old might have in that situation.

It isn't a discussion Geerdes has had to have many times.

"The vast majority of students choose to stay on [the Fairmont Area] campus and take the college in school from Fairmont," he said.

There are two other options for students looking toward college. In both Accounting 1 and 2 and child development classes, students have the option of earning an Articulation Agreement, a certificate they can take to a college and possibly trade for credit.

Honors classes are another option for academically gifted students. There is no college credit involved, but students' grade-point average is weighted, meaning they can earn more than 4.0 for their effort and boost their overall GPA.

Geerdes said it is unusual to find so many options at a school of Fairmont's size. He believes students can really benefit from the challenging curriculum, but it does come at a cost to the school.

Sue Nelson, district business manager, said that when students choose to earn college credit while attending high school, the high school loses a portion of their state funding for the student. And state aid accounts for a large portion of a school district's budget.

Each program is costed out differently, and it depends on the amount of time a student spends in the classes. PSEO is paid for by the state and the general education aid the school typically receives from the state is pro-rated, based on the number of credits a student is taking, down to a minimum of 12 percent of the aid.

CIC courses cost the district $1,800 per course, but the school receives the entire funding amount, plus a 25 percent state reimbursement for the cost of the class.

AP classes cost the same as traditional high school classes, but the district covers the $85 fee per student who wishes to take the test.

So, how do taxpayers benefit?

The state of Minnesota subsidizes the cost of educating a student at a state institution. That is why state colleges cost less than private schools. If a student has one year of a two- or four-year education taken care of before he or she leaves high school, assuming a $10,000 per year tuition, the state saves $3,300 per student. And since taxpayers are the state funding source, it saves them money.

Fairmont Area Students can potentially earn 20 college credits during their junior and senior years without leaving the high school's campus.

"For our students who are very academically motivated and for parents," Geerdes said, "we have a very strong academic program for all levels of students."



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