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Advanced learning expands: High school classes for college credits growing in popularity

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Advanced learning expands: High school classes for college credits growing in popularity
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GRAND FORKS — More high school students in the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., districts are taking classes to gain college credit, and some save thousands each year, according to local and state reports.


Juniors and seniors in both cities have been enrolling in more of these classes, whether they are Advanced Placement or others, and this aligns with growing interest across both states.

According to a recent national report by the College Board, the organization that administers the AP exam, the number of Minnesota students who have taken an AP exam to gain credit almost doubled in the past decade to 31.6 percent, while the number of North Dakota students has increased by 8 percentage points to 14.9 percent in the same timeframe. Nationwide, 33.2 percent of students took the AP exam, up 14.3 percentage points.

Students who choose an AP course must pass an exam to earn the credit. With other college-credit classes, a grade can suffice.

By the numbers

College credit classes have been gaining popularity among students in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to the College Board report, but data on local schools is less clear.

This fall, 468 students enrolled in college credit classes — AP, dual credit, or both — at Central and Red River High Schools in Grand Forks. That’s a 23 percent increase since 2010, the year that the district first introduced dual credit classes, which count toward high school and college credit. Districts traditionally offer basic subjects like English, math and biology for these classes.

Several regional schools offer college credit classes in addition to or in lieu of AP. East Grand Forks Senior High, for instance, only uses College in High School classes. The district offers a maximum of 42 credits to students through an arrangement with University of Minnesota-Crookston.

More than half of eligible students are taking college-credit classes, and the number has been growing over the past five years, according to Senior High Principal Brian Loer.

Although only about 5 percent of students take the maximum number of credits the school offers, the interest is so high in classes overall they hope to add more, he said.

Cost savings

Grand Forks and East Grand Forks students likely save thousands each year, though it’s difficult to narrow down how much, say district officials.

At Central and Red River, students take an average of six to nine credits of AP or dual credit classes by the time they graduate, according to the district. At the University of North Dakota, that would amount to a savings of $1,878 to $2,817, according to current per-credit costs.

However, the district doesn’t track each student’s credit load and their choice really depends on their future plans, school officials said. Students who plan to stay in the Midwest generally favor dual credit, while those considering more selective schools choose AP classes. Students must also pay $90 for each AP exam they choose.

Overall, more Red River students have enrolled in AP courses in the past four years while Central students appeared to favor dual credit, according to district data. Administrators from both schools said students generally face less risk of failure by taking dual credit courses, which are offered to district students through Lake Region State College in Devils Lake.

Students need a grade above a D to pass the class, while a student who takes an AP exam may not necessarily pass it and likewise, not receive credit, said Central Principal Buck Kasowski.

“All of your eggs are really in that one basket,” he said.

At East Grand Forks Senior High, students take an average of 18 to 24 college credit classes by the time they graduate, said Principal Brian Loer. That would equate to a savings of at least about $6,282 to $8,376 per student, based on the average credit rates at state institutions, according to information from the Minnesota Department of Education.

The popularity of these classes is evident — virtually every student who is eligible for the classes takes them, Loer said.

“They’re itching for more college classes because they’re free,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 
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