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A college degree by graduation will soon be possible for BHS students

  • Pathways & Partnerships

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 2023-24 school year, the Associates of Arts Pathway will offer juniors and seniors at BHS the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree. An alternative to the post secondary 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. A grant from the Minnesota Department of Education is helping get the Pathway started, including covering expenses for planning, administration, instruction and materials.

Students will be able to complete 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. There are options to combine this work with the other Pathways offered at BHS to work toward college credits or careers in fields like health care, education or criminal justice. Former high school counselor Becky Akerson is the Associates of Arts Coordinator charged with getting the program up and running. 

“We really want to offer the highest level of education possible to our students in a highly supportive and encouraging environment,” said Akerson. “We want to feel confident in our ability to support them and to remove barriers that may be keeping some students from pursuing something like this.”

two burnsville high school students working together in a classroom

By housing the program within BHS, students will be able to connect with teachers and counselors more readily than they could with college professors, and find support to get used to the level of rigor the courses provide. The program is possible through a strong partnership with a variety of higher education institutions including Inver Hills Community College, the University of Minnesota, Metro State University, and Normandale Community College. 

“When students have to leave campus to take college classes, they not only face barriers of transportation, they also forfeit their high school experience,” said Dr. Kathy Funston, the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Pathways. “While in high school, students develop essential leadership, teamwork, time management, critical thinking, and maturity skills. One91 is an innovative, future-focused district and our students deserve all of the opportunities we can bring to them.”

Because so many teachers at BHS have the advanced coursework that allows them 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 be able to transfer seamlessly into any of the Minnesota State University options where they will enter as a junior and be able to focus almost exclusively on their degree specific coursework. Other colleges will also honor most of the credits with some requiring a few additional courses.

“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 Akerson. “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.” 

Students will still be able to participate in classes that are important to them like fine arts electives and other options while working towards the Associates of Arts Pathway. 

“This additional pathway is for students who want the challenge of taking a full schedule of college courses and also want to participate in the activities and social life of high school,” said Dr. Funston. “Our goal is that students are successful in this ambitious program and at Burnsville High School, they will have the care and support of high school staff, teachers, and peers.”

student in the CNA class checks the heartbeat of a classmate

Students taking college classes at other high schools will have the opportunity to earn college credits while on the high school campus, but they will not be able to earn an Associate Degree. BHS’s partner colleges and universities have been excited to participate in a program that allows students to experience college level work in high school and encourages them to explore different options before they get to college.

“High school is often viewed as a series of requirements you have to do, but we want to get kids having more choices and have them try out different things in high school for free instead of in college,” said Akerson. “We want to enhance the power of education and encourage well-rounded, community-driven, and future-prepared students for the world!”

Students are able to explore joining the Associates 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.

“I want to be able to provide great information and encouraging advice about this option to students, families, teachers, and counselors,” said Akerson. “We eventually 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 understanding their potential next steps.”

For more information on the Associates of Arts Pathway, contact Becky Akerson at rakerson@isd191.org or 651-667-6579.

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