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High schoolers hit with college fees

Getting college credits while still in high school is all the rage these days, but it's proving to be a bit of a "good problem" for some school districts, including Detroit Lakes.

An uptick in "College Now" courses -- classes offered through the combined efforts of the DL High School and Southwest State out of Marshall, has school leaders proposing the idea of implementing a fee to those enrolled students.

Right now the school district is footing most of the bill for the "concurrent enrollment" classes, which fulfill both high school and many college requirements, with the state kicking in some funds.

However, Detroit Lakes Schools Superintendent Doug Froke says the state essentially underestimated how popular the program would become, and so the amount of money in "that pot" doesn't go nearly as far as originally anticipated. This means schools are being handed a much bigger bill to make up for it.

"Since we started the program (in 2008) the total we've received from concurrent enrollment aid is $35,692," said Froke, "That's up against $126,265 in expenses paid," he said, pointing out that the state ended up paying for an average of 28 percent of the program.

Now, he says the state has prorated the cost, so it will essentially cover around 27 percent of each class for each student per semester.

Froke says with less state money to work with and more students opting for the classes, school leaders will be asking for the school board's approval to implement a $40 per-class fee.

"It's still a heck of a deal," said Froke, adding that the fee is still only a fraction of the price students would normally pay once they're out of high school.

The fee would set the costs at a little over 30 percent for the school district, the state and the student -- with some fluctuation involved.

The school district is fulfilling its legal requirement to notify the community in three postings prior to the public meeting, which is set for Aug. 1.

During that time, the board will hear from the public, taking the issue into consideration until the regular school board meeting later next month.

The idea was already brought to the board when it passed a cost-containment plan in May, which was a plan to address the district's $500,000 deficit.

Nearly 300 Detroit Lakes juniors and seniors are already enrolled in the 2012-13 College Now classes, and if passed, the fees would save the school district an average of $10,000 a year, with the potential savings to go higher as more students take advantage of the program.

The fee would only be for the students taking the College Now classes, which are not the same as advanced placement or other programs through various colleges.

Those programs also have high school students walking away with college credit, but they are a very different setting. The college classes taken through other colleges are also paid through the Detroit Lakes School District, which they receive funding for through the state.

Those classes will still be free to students, but Detroit Lakes High School Principal Steve Morben says he expects the College Now classes would remain popular even with a $40 fee, because they are taught at the high school by DL teachers (in collaboration with Southwest State faculty) as part of the everyday in-school curriculum.

"They still get the high school experience, while getting the college credit," said Morben, adding that the proposed fee is in line with the $39 it costs to take an advanced placement test for college credit.

Morben and Froke agree that money issues aside, the fact that there are so many students grabbing onto these collegiate opportunities is "a good thing," because it means students are no longer coasting through their senior years, but are engaging in rigorous classes that will not only help them out financially in college, but academically as well.

The public hearing on the proposed fee will take place Aug. 1 at the school's administration building at 6:30 p.m.