More students can take plunge into college waters

School-district-funded college courses, once available only to Colorado’s 11th- and 12th-graders, will be open to ninth-graders through 21-year-olds beginning this fall.

Two bills that passed in 2009 in the state Legislature changed concurrent-enrollment rules to allow a greater range of students to test out college before leaving high school. Western Colorado Community College Director of Student Services Heather Exby said she expects the change to bring more students to higher education before and after high school.

Last year, 416 students participated in concurrent enrollment at the college, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

“I don’t see anyone in our concurrent-enrollment program who doesn’t go to college after graduating high school,” Exby said.

Concurrent enrollment helps students test the waters and increases a student’s chances of pursuing a degree, Exby said. The program is especially important, she said, for first-generation college students who may need convincing they are prepared for the challenge of higher education.

The 3.0 grade point average and minimum ACT score of 19 required to participate in Mesa State classes while enrolled in a District 51 high school hasn’t changed. But now students also will have to demonstrate they are ready for college.

Making sure a student is ready for college is especially important now that younger students can enroll in college courses, according to District 51 Executive Director of High Schools Bill Larsen.

Larsen said ninth-graders in particular will rarely be approved for concurrent enrollment. But not all younger students will be turned away.

“There were some feelings some kids were being slowed down, and the idea was students should move at a pace they can show they can move,” Larsen said.

In addition to changing basic concurrent-enrollment rules, the new law ended one program and started another. The Fast Track program, which allowed students to finish high school graduation requirements early and enroll full time in college at their home school district’s expense before the end of what would have been their senior year, ended in spring 2011.

Fast Track had good intentions, Exby said. But some students who enrolled in the program didn’t perform well in college.

“A lot of times students were just doing it so they could go to college and have the district pay for it,” Exby said.

A new concurrent-enrollment program called Accelerating Students Through Concurrent Enrollment (ASCENT) will begin this fall. Fifteen to 17 students from District 51, Delta School District 50 and Norwood who finished high school in May will enroll at Mesa State College or Western Colorado Community College this fall.

In exchange for remaining on the rosters for their home school districts as fifth-year seniors, the students will be able to earn up to 30 college credits and have their tuition costs reimbursed by the school districts. The districts will pay for tuition with $5,800 the state will give each district for each ASCENT student.

Not all students looking for the college credit will leave their high schools. Central and Fruita Monument high schools have offered Mesa State courses taught on site by specially trained District 51 teachers since 2009. This month, Grand Junction and Palisade high schools also will offer the program, called High School Scholars.

High School Scholars is offered at four Delta School District 50 high schools, plus high schools in Ouray, Telluride, Olathe, Nucla, Norwood, Ridgway and Granby.

Larsen said ASCENT, concurrent enrollment and High School Scholars, plus International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes in District 51’s high schools, offer students plenty of ways to prepare for college without paying for college.

“It’s a win-win for students and a win-win for parents,” Larsen said.

The school district benefits, too, he said.

“The higher rigor these students get into, the better they’re going to do with our courses,” he said.


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