illustration of school subject icons

In large metropolitan high schools it is easy to find opportunities for top students to experience college readiness and earn college credits. Students can easily access Advanced Placement (AP) programming, dual credit (high school and college) programs, and additional options. Families often comment that these programs save them substantial money and time in college, so that students can go on to graduate programs and the working world more quickly than their classmates. 

At Rosemount High School, in Rosemount, MN, more than 92 percent of students go on to college. It’s not just the top students that participate in AP, Honors, and college credit programming—today most of the students considered to be in the middle academically are attending postsecondary schools. As a high school, we have worked hard to get our students into college, but we found that many of them didn’t make it past the first term. This forced us to ask: “Now that we got our students into college, how can we help to keep them there?”

The Start of a Beautiful Partnership 

At a concurrent enrollment workshop, several educators from colleges and high schools sat together to talk about this situation, “How do we get students ‘college ready’ and keep them enrolled until they graduate?” From that discussion we developed a partnership between Rosemount High School and Inver Hills Community College (IHCC) in Inver Grove Heights, MN. 

The purpose of the partnership was to create programming that would help students in the “academic middle”—those who don’t necessarily earn top grades, but students with college potential—learn to be successful in postsecondary coursework. 

The program at Rosemount High School is unique because it focuses on soft skills, advocacy skills, and the educational needs required to be successful in college. For instance, teachers spend time with students in conferencing sessions to help them learn to articulate their needs. Students learn how to “break down” large assignments into smaller pieces while setting deadlines that will help them learn to manage their time. Time management, integrity, communication, and collaboration are just a few of the lifelong skills that are practiced along with academics to help prepare students for college. Finally, students are asked to set goals, articulate them, and create plans to accomplish them—not just in their coursework but in their post­secondary planning. 

Our plan targets students in tenth grade given their scores on the ACCUPLACER (a series of tests that gauge students’ knowledge in reading, writing, and math) and places them into a developmental college English course. While students are not earning college credit in their tenth-grade English course, they are learning materials that would be taught in the developmental English courses at IHCC, as well as high school-determined curriculum. After earning a “C” or better in their tenth-grade English course, these students begin earning college credit while taking their eleventh-grade English course. Then, during their senior year, students can take additional courses for college credits. We believe that offering concurrent enrollment options for students in the “academic middle” during their junior and senior years—by giving them rigorous coursework with support—helps them navigate the transition from high school to post­secondary education with greater success. 

One of the key components that makes this program unique is the development of college readiness that includes mentoring with college faculty and high school faculty, regular college visits, and more. Classes are taught by the college professor of record, papers are scored with collaborative rubrics, students are issued college ID numbers and have access to the college library, writing centers, and online learning platforms. Students have the opportunity to spend time in the college setting and understand the resources that are available to them as a high school concurrent student and as a college student. These intentional opportunities allow our students to be prepared the day they begin their postsecondary experiences.

Our program targeted three types of students in the “academic middle”: students of color, low socioeconomic students, and first-generation college students. We believe the attention to detail in helping our students prepare for college is not only going to get them into college but to keep them there. When students complete coursework and graduate from Rosemount High School they earn a high school diploma, a college transcript from IHCC with 13 credits, automatic admission into IHCC, and—most importantly—the skills to successfully navigate college.

An Unanticipated Impact 

The impact on Rosemount High School has been profound, but perhaps not in ways one might expect. Because of the program, we have had significant discussions with IHCC about vertically aligning curriculum and the soft skills that professors expect their students to have when they arrive on campus. Our English department has done research on what the ACCUPLACER is and what we can learn from it. Each year we receive reports about how our students have done on this entrance exam, it provides better information about the skills needed for that test and how to prepare for it. Having a mentor relationship with IHCC has given us a chance to talk about curriculum from grade nine through freshman year of college. What we have learned is that we need to refocus on vocabulary and grammar and teach with more depth. These discussions have allowed us to take some risks not only with our developmental students, but with all our English classes. 

Over the past five years, more than 800 Rosemount High School students have begun their college programming at IHCC, yet most of our staff had never set foot on campus. To increase awareness, we have held staff development sessions at IHCC. We walked the campus, met with professors about current trends in college and in the world of work, and learned what colleges are expecting from students when they begin their post-secondary careers. As a result, some of the stigma of the two-year post-secondary options were erased, and our staff admits to feeling better prepared to answer student questions about finding options that may best meet their college, career, and technical needs.

Lessons Learned 

Some of the initial funding for the concurrent college enrollment program came via a grant through the Equal Access and Opportunities programming at IHCC. However, we are still carrying the weight of the primary teacher, and the student class count affects staffing for our other English teachers. This has resulted in some larger class sizes for our other teachers while our College Prep teacher has maintained a class limit of 25 as required at the community college. In addition, much like a college course, we pay tuition. As we continue to grow our program, we will continue to wrestle with staffing issues and the effects on other courses, but we believe that giving students this opportunity is worth the struggles. 

Replicating a program like this has taught us that there needs to be a solid investment of staff and time to thoroughly plan the program. One difficulty we did not expect is that the community college has strict accreditation requirements. We have been limited in growing our program based upon the strict requirements of post-graduate credits for teachers who can teach this course. In order for the program to be successful, a school must give time and validation to the curriculum. Staff must take the time to evaluate where the “laps and gaps” are so that a student can earn credit in both the high school and the college setting. 

Administrators and teachers must make hard decisions about who to include in the program and how it will best serve the students in that particular school. Most importantly, you need to have a staff that believes in what the program stands for so that all of you can face the challenges it may bring. We believe programs like this should start small so you can work out the bugs before launching it schoolwide. 

Deconstructing the Data

Our pilot group of students graduated from high school this year. We have been collecting data this fall to determine how many students ended up going to IHCC (or another college) and how well prepared they were. While we are still in the early stages of this process and our data is not yet solid, we have learned that the students are feeling much better about who they are and are adjusting to a new type of rigor in their education. Their feedback: 

“I can do more than I think I can.”

“I am smarter than I thought.”

“I want to go to college.”

“This program has taught me the importance of visiting a college to decide what is right for me. I didn’t understand this before. I thought they were all the same and that they all taught the same things and for the same reasons.”

 Teachers and staff have a better grasp on what the college needs are for our students now, and how to better advise our kids. That makes this program valuable to our whole school. We’re hopeful that this program will open the doors for greater college success for our “academic middle” students. 

Kimberly Budde is assistant principal at Rosemount High School in Rosemount, MN, and the Minnesota Assistant Principal of the Year.