The cost of college is a big stressor for high school students and their parents. Several Sheboygan County educators have launched an innovative public-private partnership to help stem those costs and allow students to earn an associate degree in information technology while still in high school.
The College Here & Now program is a partnership between the Sheboygan Area School District, Lakeshore Technical College and Lakeland University. By taking dual-credit courses, SASD students can earn the LTC associate degree while earning their high school diploma.
Through the program, the associate degree is offered with no tuition cost and students can then continue their education to earn a Lakeland bachelor’s degree in computer science in just two years. If those students participate in Lakeland’s cooperative education program, they can earn scholarship money and wages to graduate with little or no tuition debt.
“We’re the first in the nation to have launched something like this,” says Cynthia Lindstrom, associate professor of computer science at Lakeland. “It has surpassed our expectations already in terms of enrollment. There are lots of people are showing interest.”
College Here & Now is ideal for students who never considered college an option, whether it was financial, time or another reason. It’s also a strong, collaborative way to provide new talent for local employers seeking IT professionals.
LTC President Paul Carlsen says about 100 students at Sheboygan North and Sheboygan South high schools have signed up.
“This is a phenomenal number,” he says. “This is intended to be a pilot program, and the numbers look like it’s going to be successful.”
High school educators who have gone through a credentialing process are teaching entry-level courses. “They teach the first two classes in the pathway,” says Jason Duff, SASD’s coordinator of academic and career planning. “We knew that computer science and technology is something that has been really growing in interest in our students over the years.”
With 13 elementary schools in the district, coding clubs have been “tremendously popular,” Duff says. “We knew there was an appetite (for IT programs). Long-term, we felt the things going on in our elementary and middle schools were only going to add to that interest.”
Classrooms at both high schools have also been renovated for College Here & Now. “We want (students) to feel like they’re on a college campus,” Carlsen says.
He says a lot of planning went into this partnership — about 18 months to build the essential pipeline in terms of meeting credentials and having credits transfer. All parties “were focused on the outcome: How can we make this a reality? One of the key components is a strong partnership on all levels,” he says.
SASD students ideally would start the program as freshmen. “If a student were to take all the classes in the pathway … by the time they’re a senior, they graduate with their high school diploma and an associate degree from LTC,” Duff says.
The students can then continue at Lakeland. “We benefit in getting the students,” Lindstrom says. “We already have the transfer set up.”
If the partnership works well, the program could expand beyond the computer science discipline.
“That is exactly what we hope will happen,” Lindstrom says. “We’re going full steam ahead.”