Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks with a group of students from Gilman High School in January 2016 during a visit to CVTC’s Chippewa Falls campus to talk about encouraging technical colleges to increase their efforts to offer dual credit to high school students. A year later, CVTC is preparing to become the first college in the state to offer high school students a chance to earn an associate degree.
In what could be a sign of the future in secondary education in Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Technical College is preparing to become the first college in the state to allow high school students to earn associate degrees. The first such program, in Business Management, is set to begin in the fall at River Falls High School.
The program is an extension of the popular dual credit high school academies CVTC has created with several cooperating high schools in the 11-county CVTC district. But for the academy beginning in River Falls, students can finish with an associate degree, which is generally a full two-year program at a post-secondary school.
The first such degrees could be issued as early as 2020 to students who are currently freshmen at River Falls, though most would be available to 2021 graduates. More such programs could begin at other schools in CVTC’s district in the future. Though unique to Wisconsin, an associate degree program for high schools is not unknown in the nation.
“This initiative represents the first in the state of Wisconsin in which a technical college is partnering with a secondary school to provide the opportunity for a college degree upon high school graduation,” said CVTC President Bruce Barker. “This model has been used successfully in other states, including our neighbors in Minnesota.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students,” said River Falls High School Principal Kit Luedtke. “Being able to transfer an associate degree into a four-year university can enable students to complete a higher degree earlier. And we can have students becoming highly qualified for middle management positions in the area. We’re very excited about that benefit as well.”
Luedtke added that another major benefit is financial, with students earning associate degrees with little or no tuition costs.
The concept for the associate degree program came out of conversations between Luedtke and Jedediah Watters, CVTC’s K-12 relations coordinator. For years, River Falls has offered several classes for which students could receive dual high school and CVTC credit. The next level in a dual credit program is a dual credit academy, in which a series of classes in a subject are offered for dual credit, often leading to specific certificates or credentials.
“We were looking at different academies and programs they were interested in, and were focusing on what we could easily add to,” Watters said. “But they were also looking for something that could set River Falls apart.”
The school already had dual credit classes in Accounting and Principles of Marketing in the business area.
Watters developed a plan in which students could start with two classes in their freshman year, then add classes each year until completion of the credits needed for an associate degree. The existing dual credit classes would be utilized, along with some current advanced placement classes (a separate way for students to obtain college credits in high school). Some new dual credit classes would be added. In all classes, students would have to meet the same competencies as current CVTC students.
Luedtke said he was both excited and surprised to hear that such a plan was possible, but he quickly saw how it could work.
“We’re going to utilize classes taught by our instructors, some online classes, and with our campus only a mile and a half from the CVTC River Falls campus, we could have them take some classes at the college,” Luedtke said.
Students could work the online classes into their high school schedules, or take them in addition to their high school classes.
With the program taking shape, CVTC and high school staff started speaking to prospective students, currently in 8th grade, at a Jan. 23 college fair.
“We have 240 freshmen entering high school next school year, and 40 or 50 students and their families have expressed some or a great amount of interest in the program,” Luedtke said. “And we’ve had some current freshmen express interest in taking the freshman-level classes as sophomores so they can get in on the program.”
Luedtke noted that the program is not just for potential college business majors.
“We are hoping this also appeals to students who don’t plan to pursue a business career,” Luedtke said. “No matter what field they go into, there will be management opportunities.”