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Natalie Lenz isn’t sure what field or career path she will veer into in her future. She’s pondering chemistry, mathematics or, maybe, pharmaceutical sciences.

Whatever the Oshkosh North High School graduate destined for the University of Wisconsin-Madison decides, she is certain about one thing. The advanced, “concurrent-enrollment” Calculus, Spanish, English and British Literature courses she took and earned college credit for at her hometown University while still a high school junior and senior will help her hit the ground running as a first-year Badger this fall.

“I actually have my schedule for next year, and going into it, I’m feeling really confident that I will excel in those classes and that it will be a good semester,” Lenz said.

Lenz, and thousands of other high school students who have benefitted from the program give its teachers and professors plenty of credit. The collaboration involved in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s prestigious, nationally-accredited and more than 35-year-old Cooperative Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) has, according to the most recent approximation, propelled nearly 39,000 high school students into higher education since the program’s start. That startling student total approaches the population of modern-day Wausau.

In fall 2013, the UW System will begin planning implementation of a dual-enrollment program spreading access to CAPP-like courses around Wisconsin. The program is the result of a partnership and agreement between the Department of Public Instruction and UW Extension and Colleges to provide high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn credits transferable into Wisconsin’s public four-year institutions or two-year colleges after graduation. Several private colleges may also recognize the credits.

In many ways, CAPP is the new, statewide program’s archetype.

The 36-year-old program’s outstanding reputation and track record may also earn UW Oshkosh the right to host and help coordinate the broader dual-enrollment initiative. On June 21, UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells contacted UW System President Kevin Reilly, UW Extension and Colleges Chancellor Ray Cross and State Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers, offering UW Oshkosh as the statewide program’s collaboration headquarters.

“We have relevant experience and sensitivity to various, highly complex issues that will be a significant part of the implementation efforts required for the establishment of new mechanisms to provide expanded access to affordable educational opportunity for Wisconsin high school students,” Wells stated in a June 21 memo.

As with CAPP, the new program is built upon the collaborations of UW professors and high school teachers with master’s degrees. The teachers receive specific training to lead college-credit courses, some in their native K-12 school districts and classrooms, others online.

Whatever the forum, the new program represents another big step toward improving college access and speeding up time-to-degree while ensuring academic quality for high school graduates. Those were the goals UW Oshkosh set as the foundation of CAPP back in 1976.

How CAPP works…

CAPP has grown dramatically since its birth. In the 2011-12 academic year, approximately 1,800 students from more than 40 Wisconsin high schools, from Algoma to Brookfield, offered CAPP courses. The program offered 2,400 sections of coursework.

“The 30-plus years of growth we have experienced are due to word of mouth from teacher to teacher and school district to school district,” said Greg Kleinheinz, director of the CAPP program and associate dean of the College of Letters & Science at UW-Oshkosh.

UW Oshkosh’s CAPP was the first program of its kind nationally accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) in Wisconsin. NACEP standards are built upon the best practices of exceptional, rigorous college programs.

CAPP courses are actual college courses, including an array of subjects ranging from art and anatomy to calculus, computer science, economics and foreign languages. Several courses are now featured online. When students have completed them, they may request an official UW Oshkosh transcript. That sets CAPP apart from many Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which serve as advanced high school-level courses ending in an exam that may or may not result in college credit upon admission.

Junior and senior high school students who meet at least one of the following requirements may enroll in CAPP: They rank in the top 25 percent of their class; they have a GPA of at least 3.25 on a 4.0 scale; or they have achieved an ACT score of 24 with a class rank in the top 50 percent. Other students may also be eligible with approval of the University liaison, a high school adjunct instructor and program director.

UW Oshkosh holds CAPP instructors to high standards and established quality guidelines. High school teachers with master’s degrees teach CAPP courses, collaborating with UW Oshkosh professors to implement courses at participating high schools.

“Ultimately, this program is designed to benefit the student,” UW Oshkosh College of Letters and Science Dean John Koker said. “Small class sizes and individual attention increase the likelihood of student success. It allows the student, who is prepared, to get a head start on earning college credit.  However, the way this collaborative program is designed it also benefits the school district, the high school, the high school teacher and UW Oshkosh in many ways.”

Student success

Lenz and her Oshkosh family are a testament to the lifelong, career-propelling value of CAPP.

“For me personally, it was the right level of what I was looking for,” she said.

Her older brother and sister would agree.

After his CAPP experience, Natalie’s older brother, John, pursued and earned applied math and science degrees. He went to the University of Illinois and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in math. Her older sister Annaliese earned an aeronautical engineering master’s degree at Purdue University and a scholarship to work for NASA at Langley Air Force Base. After her NASA experience, she returned to Oshkosh and now is an engineer for defense giant and long-time Wisconsin manufacturing powerhouse Oshkosh Corporation.

Kathleen Lenz, a UW Oshkosh alumnae and mom to the three CAPP alums, said the challenge of the program was the biggest selling point for her family. She and her husband, another UW Oshkosh alumnus who owns a computerized manufacturing systems company in Oshkosh, have always been high on the program’s academic rigor, not just the head start it provides.

“We didn’t encourage our children to take these classes just because you accumulate college credit,” Kathleen Lenz said. “We encouraged them because we knew it would keep them challenged.”

Teacher pride

Rick Bolda, is a calculus teacher at Oshkosh North and West High Schools who has been at the head of the class for 29 years. He has been participating in the CAPP program for 12 years and vouches that the program is just as valuable to its partner teachers as it is to students.

“I really see, in the span from fall to spring, tremendous growth and maturity occur in students, in  meeting the challenge – not folding in but battling through setbacks and understanding what hard work and effort and learning mean to become a student,” he said. “… To know you’ve played role in starting that and have planted the seed and helped them learn to love learning is rewarding.”

Bolda said he has had a few students pursue and earn scholarships, internships and other opportunities with prestigious institutions and agencies such as NASA.

“My joke is it’s tough to work in room full of perfectionists,” he said. “But it’s true: You have high-achieving students who are driven, and they push the teacher to another level as well. I have high expectations for them… but it’s really a two-way street. Because I see them take it and run with it, I want to do more and run with it, essentially showing them not just the manipulation of symbols but the wonderful application of calculus and the incorporation of technology as well.”

Appleton West Spanish teacher Tracy Sturtevant is coming off her first year as a CAPP teacher, having led 50 students in advanced Spanish courses. She said it is already evident the proven program helps students get “set up for success” in courses that incorporate “presentations, writing papers — being tested in many ways.”

“Once (students) saw the opportunity and price and how they could take that with them into college, they lined up and signed up,” Sturtevant said.

“The fact is (CAPP) is accredited through UW Oshkosh and is carefully watched by professors who come in and make sure the quality of the course is exactly what it’s supposed to be,” she said. “They also look at our curriculum and make sure it’s where it needs to be.”

Sturtevant also attested to CAPP’s portability in Wisconsin. Her two sons both took advanced preparation college courses, with her younger son enrolling in CAPP. He’s now ready to “enter UW Eau Claire with the CAPP credits in his back pocket,” she said.

“To have that in their back pocket so they can change their mind and move in a different direction if they choose later on is fantastic for students,” she said. “They start at a university level where they already very close to getting a minor.”

Teacher connection, collaboration a key ingredient

Kleinheinz and Koker said the key to CAPP’s success and reputation for quality is rooted in its adjunct teachers and liaisons.

“They are some of the best teachers in these school districts and some of our best and brightest faculty,” Kleinheinz said. “Their tireless work ethic and willingness to be innovative in their courses have made CAPP offerings a highly sought after opportunity in high schools. When you couple these instructional efforts with great students, you find a recipe for success in the classroom.”

Koker’s first experience with the program was as a UW Oshkosh liaison in the 1990s. He said it gave him a first-hand, in-the-field opportunity to see the unique symbiosis between University faculty and high school teachers.

“I had the opportunity work with and mentor area high school math teachers who were teaching Calculus,” Koker said. “A strength of our program is the relationship that often develops between the CAPP instructor and the UW Oshkosh liaison faculty member. All high school CAPP instructors are highly qualified with a minimum of a Master’s degree, and, through this liaison relationship, we try to make the high school teacher part of the academic department and college which offers the course.”

Word of mouth praise, alone, has been a tremendous factor in CAPP’s expanding acceptance by school districts and teaching communities throughout Wisconsin, Kleinheinz said.

“There is no better selling point to our program than one district telling another one about the benefits CAPP and what it has done for their district and students,” he said.

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