RICHEFIELD, Minn. - Students in Chris Kaus's physics class hustle to their seats, flip open their computers and prepare to crunch the data they've gathered on a daily lab experiment.
"Your job is to figure out which one is more efficient," instructed Kaus.
Expectations run high in this course, which is actually the same introductory physics course offered at the University of Minnesota. By taking the class at Richfield High School, students are earning University of Minnesota credit for free.
"College in the Schools is a dual credit program," said Sue Henderson, who directs the CIS program at the U of M. "Students earn both high school and college credit at the same time."
It's part of the same legislation passed in 1985 that also enables high school juniors and seniors to take college courses on college campuses statewide for free, which is the Post Secondary Enrollment Option, or PSEO.
Students looking for higher level courses have long appreciated the option, but in this age of rapidly rising college tuition, there's added incentive.
"Getting the college credit is really nice, especially for free," said junior Jenna Freund.
Richfield High School is one of 134 statewide that participate in College in the Schools. The school partners with the University of Minnesota, although other colleges also offer the program.
According to the State Department of Education 21,000 students took advantage of CIS classes in 2010-2011, earning 163,000 college credits.
Like PSEO, it means student can finish their college degree earlier, and save money. Unlike PSEO, CIS offers high schoolers the chance to do that on their own campus.
"They would rather be here than go to Normandale or somewhere else to get college credit, " said Kaus, who adds keeping the students on campus enriches the school.
Another benefit is CIS offers teachers a higher level of training. High school staff who teach the college level courses partner with those colleges and work together in groups to advance their own education.
"My education in this regard has increased," said Matt Brown, who teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology. He recently spent a weekend with other high school teachers and professors from the University of Minnesota in a cadaver lab to further his knowledge of the human body.
"Something we can't do with high school students just because of the ethics and concerns involved," Brown explained. But he can bring his knowledge back to his high school classroom as he guides students through the university level course.
Students are expected to pass the entire course to receive credit. The only change is, the high school students typically take longer to complete the class that spans a college semester.
Kaus sees it as a win for students, and a win for schools.
"They're with their peers, they get college credit, and they get challenging courses. It's a great deal for our students."
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