The best way to reduce your student loans is to take college courses in high school.
We’re not talking about Advanced Placement classes or taking a course at a college while you’re still in high school. We’re talking about dual-credit courses. Taught in high school classrooms, they carry both college and high school credits.
The Janesville School District offers 30 such courses, and district officials want to offer more. But before they do that, they’ve got make sure teachers have the proper credentials.
It’s not as easy as you’d think.
Earning college creditJanesville high school students have always had access to college-level courses through AP classes, and state law requires school districts to pay for college classes for qualifying students.
Both of those approaches have drawbacks.
Students who take AP classes have to do well on the exam, which is scored from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Some colleges give students three credits in a subject area if they earn a score of 3 or higher. Other colleges require a score of 4 or more, and still others don’t accept AP credits at all.
Students who qualify to take college classes and have transportation can attend courses at any local college or university. But commuting time makes it difficult to fit such classes neatly into a high school schedule.
As states try to boost academic standards and increase the number of low-income and minority students in higher education, dual-credit courses have become increasingly popular, according to the Higher Learning Commission.
A study by the commission showed that between the 2002-03 and 2010-11 school years, dual-credit enrollment increased from an estimated 1.16 million to 2.04 million. That number doesn’t represent individual students, but rather the number of courses taken.
When concerns arose about the rigor of such courses, the commission set baseline qualifications for teachers in the 19 states it oversees. Under those qualifications, a teacher must have a master’s degree in the subject area or a master’s degree in a different field plus 18 credits in the subject area.
The Higher Learning Commission’s deadline for teachers to have those qualifications is Sept. 1, 2022, commission spokeswoman Heather Berg said.
Teacher creditKolleen Onsrud, the Janesville School District’s curriculum coordinator, has worked with staff members to help them get the credits they need. A grant, overseen by Blackhawk Technical College, is helping to pay for tuition.
It hasn’t gone as she expected.
“It really has been a challenge to find the relevant courses for our staff,” Onsrud said.
Teachers need online courses, and they prefer to take such courses in summer.
“We used to be working exclusively with UW-Whitewater, but they were having a really hard time creating and producing the courses in a timely manner,” Onsrud said. “We’ve had to look at other UW campuses.”
But even the UW System hasn’t been able provide the number of courses needed, especially during the summer term. That’s occurring despite data that shows a “steady march in the normalization of online learning,” according to an article in Inside Higher Education.
Teachers who miss the deadline might be able to continue to teach dual-credit courses if they have professional development plans in place.
There’s a lot at stake for students.
The average cost per credit at a four-year college is $594, according to Student Loan Hero, a subsidiary of Lending Tree, which describes itself an “online lending marketplace.”
The cost per credit at a two-year college is significantly less.
The school district’s dual-credit course offerings range from chemistry to arc welding, so it’s unlikely students would—or could—take them all. But if that were possible, they could earn 63 college credits.
At $594 a credit, that’s a significant savings.
The Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, the first bona fide hotel to come to downtown Janesville since the end of the Roaring ’20s, opened Friday in Janesville.
Its first guest? An actress. A local actress, sure, but an actress all the same.
At 2 p.m. sharp Friday, Claudine Manor of Janesville checked in at the hotel’s stone-and-tile lobby at 20 W. Milwaukee St. while Cobblestone regional executives looked on and staff bustled beyond bright green doors leading into the hotel’s attached restaurant and lounge, the Wissota Chophouse.
Manor, an employee of Forward Janesville, has an acting role this weekend in “When I Go,” a locally written play running at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Manor booked a room at the 53-room hotel for her family, who Manor said is traveling from Bettendorf, Iowa, to see her perform.
Her family’s weekend stay at the riverfront boutique hotel illustrates a symbiosis that Cobblestone hopes can fuel its business in Janesville—a blend of local customers and visitors who come for downtown tourist attractions and events.
Brian Milleville, Cobblestone’s regional director of operations, said his Neenah-based hotel group has opted to locate many of its hotels in downtown areas because the company wants to be firmly rooted in the core of a community.
“We don’t really locate next to Interstates. We want to be right in the mix, the community itself,” he said.
Milleville pointed to a huge photo mural on the lobby wall—a black-and-white image of Janesville Fire Department officials assembled in front of downtown buildings.
“We take that kind of thing and bring it into ourselves. Try to become part of it. You do feed off each other that way,” Milleville said.
Downtown Janesville is in the midst of a multiphase revitalization along the Rock River powered by the city of Janesville and private entities. Under the ARISE plan, downtown has seen multimillion dollar investments in infrastructure, new park space, and renovation of storefronts for apartments, new retail stores and restaurants.
Manor said Forward Janesville, the local chamber of commerce, believes the $6.7 million Cobblestone is a centerpiece of downtown’s revival—a future destination for street festivals, events and, Manor hopes, continued revitalization of older commercial buildings along West Milwaukee Street.
“I think that’s the long-term hope, you know? How many more things can we bring through this downtown revitalization and everything we’re doing? How many more things can we get to happen downtown and draw people to our downtown? The pieces are here,” Manor said. “There is no reason why Janesville can’t be a destination location for a weekend getaway or a long weekend.”
Mary Beth Buonincontro, Cobblestone’s director of sales, said the Cobblestone is geared toward corporate guests during the weekdays. She said the company already has worked on partnerships with local companies that would have short-term and longer-term guests stay there, including Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center and white-collar downtown firms such as SHINE Medical Technologies and insurance development company SASid.
The hotel has a number of extended-stay rooms, with kitchens and refrigerators, split off from the more traditional hotel rooms.
On weekends, Buonincontro said, the hotel’s occupancy likely will tilt toward tourists and people in town for weddings and other events.
Calvin Klapa, director of Cobblestone’s five Wissota Chophouse locations, watched the new Wissota staff get ready for its grand opening Friday afternoon. He said several locals made reservations for Friday happy hour.
Klapa said he hopes the steak and seafood restaurant lures a blend of downtown businesspeople, local residents and hotel guests. The last few years, downtown Janesville has cultivated a number of restaurants that eschew the burger-and-beer formula, but it’s likely few places serve rabbit wontons or grilled octopus—just two of many items on the menu at Wissota.
Above Klapa was a portrait of Wissota’s de facto mascot, a Holstein cow that Klapa said Cobblestone’s owners have dubbed “Randall” for no particular reason. On the way into Janesville, Klapa said he noticed the fiberglass “Bessie the Cow” statue along Milton Avenue. It led him to believe that Cobblestone and Wissota and Janesville are a good match.
“I think that Randall and Bessie are going to become ‘Bessie’ friends—sorry, dad joke,” Klapa said. “But no. Things like that, it feels like it’s going to be really easy for us to try to fit in here.”
Wayne Patrick “Pat” Benoy
Kevin L. Shull