Those students, labeled the "academic middle," will have a chance to earn both high school and college credit simultaneously by participating in a series of "dual enrollment" courses that will be rolled out over the next several years in Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan.
In some ways, the courses will be similar to the Advanced Placement program of the University of Minnesota's College in the Schools programs, which allow students to accumulate college credit while in high school by taking more rigorous courses.
But this pilot program will focus on first-generation students, students from low-income families and students of color, said Inver Hills Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts Doug Binsfeld, who is helping coordinate the implementation of the program.
Binsfeld and District 196 Superintendent Jane Berenz believe the partnership will benefit those students in a variety of ways.
Roughy half of first-year students at Inver Hills need remedial language and reading courses, Binsfeld said, while 80 percent of them need remedial math courses. The partnership, Binsfeld hopes, will better prepare local students for college, give them the boost of confidence they need to be successful at a college-level and help them earn college credit.
"There are a lot of kids we're missing with College in the Schools or AP," said Berenz, who was inspired by a similar program at Irondale High School in New Brighton and Anoka Ramsey Community College. "It’s preparing them for college and actually helping them see that there is potential and they are college material."
Much of the funding for the program will come from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, of which Inver Hills is a part. District 196 will be responsible for paying approximately $2,500 per each new course for the program, Binsfeld said. After the courses are established, those costs diminish. The program, he said, is part of a larger MnSCU initiative aimed at preparing students for a college education.
Binsfeld and district officials hope to have two dual enrollment language arts classes up and running at Rosemount High School next fall, with a math course at Apple Valley coming later. Eventually, the program would also expand to . The program may consider expanding its course offering, depending of staff and student feedback. All the courses will be taught in District 196 schools by district faculty, officials said.
“There are not a lot of other schools that are making this kind of initiative," Binsfeld said. "We're taking leaps forward to help the students who need the most help at this point in time."