The online journal of the National Career Pathways Network
Kathy L. Funston, EdD, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Pathways, Perkins Career & Technical Education Director, ISD 191 Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District
There are a lot of different options for students to pursue after high school, ranging from starting a career to pursuing a degree. The new Associate of Arts Pathway at Burnsville High School (BHS) lets students get a head start on what comes next in a way that no other district is doing, by earning an associate degree without ever leaving the building.
Beginning in the 2023–2024 school year, the Associate of Arts (AA) Pathway will offer juniors and seniors the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree. An alternative to the postsecondary enrollment option (PSEO), which brings students onto college campuses, the new pathway will formalize and build upon the hundreds of college credits currently offered in the school.
Students will participate in a full day of college-level courses, culminating in 60 college credits with 40 credits being under the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MTC) goal areas, which allow for a seamless transfer of credits into the MN State College system, and 20 credits in electives.
When students have to leave campus to take college classes, they not only face barriers of transportation, they also forfeit their high school experience. While in high school, students develop essential leadership, teamwork, time management, critical thinking, and maturity skills.Because the program is housed within BHS, students will be able to connect with teachers and counselors more readily than they could with college professors and find support to meet the rigors of college courses. The program is possible because of a strong partnership with Inver Hills Community College (IHCC), the degree-awarding institution. “Inver Hills Community College is looking forward to approval from the Higher Learning Commission to provide the Associate of Arts degree at Burnsville High School. This collaboration will allow students to see clear pathways to attaining their postsecondary goals,” said Mary Jo Gardner, Director of K-12 Partnerships.
Because so many teachers at BHS have the advanced coursework necessary to teach college classes to high school students, classes are taught by current teachers with plans for professors to come into the school for specific courses as needed. When students complete the program, they will enter college or university as a junior and be able to focus almost exclusively on their degree-specific coursework.
Students are able to explore joining the Associate of Arts Pathway with no application or requirements beyond the GPA requirements for the college-level classes. All students are welcome to explore the pathway, and teachers and counselors will be working to promote the pathway, encouraging students who are excelling in an AP or College in the Schools course to consider taking on more through the pathway.
“On the absolute low end of the spectrum for what a two-year degree would cost, our students and their families could save over $25,000 by participating in this pathway,” said Becky Akerson, former counselor and AA Pathway coordinator. “Barriers like money and transportation have prevented students from achieving their dreams or even pursuing them and this will help by giving the power back to the students.”
Clear communication to students, families, teachers, and counselors is a goal for Akerson: “We want to start connecting with middle school counselors so that students in eighth grade can start having a plan for their future as they enter high school and understand their opportunities in high school.”