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College degree in high school coming to River Falls

CVTC faculty member Steve Gago talks about opportunities at the college with visitors at the Jan. 23 college fair at River Falls High School. A new opportunity will be available next school year with a program that allows students to earn an associate degree from CVTC by the time they complete high school. (Submitted photo)

Obtaining a college degree is something students have traditionally set their sights on after high school graduation. But River Falls High School graduates may soon be earning associate degrees when they graduate from high school.

In a program to begin next school year, River Falls students will be able to enroll in a series of classes at the high school, at CVTC and online that can lead to an associate degree in Business Management.

The first such degrees could be issued as early as 2020 to students who are now freshmen, though most would be available to 2021 graduates.

Families of students interested in the program have been invited to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, in the high school library.

"This initiative represents the first in 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 and himself a 1998 graduate of River Falls High School.

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.

"And we have two excellent instructors in Steve Trudeau and Chris Silver," Luedtke said.

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 used, 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.

"Our instructors met with their instructors and looked at what they offered and what CVTC would have to offer," Watters said.

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, now in 8th grade, at a Jan. 23 college fair. Letters have been sent to students and families, and the Feb. 13 meeting was set.

"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."

Chippewa Valley Technical College campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin.

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