High-schoolers offered year of free college

Kirby Gamble, technically a super senior at Fruita Monument High School, is taking all of his classes at Colorado Mesa University through the ASCENT program, which allows kids to stay in high school for an extra year and take college classes on the school district’s dime. Here, he studies in front of the University Center on the CMU campus.

Kirby Gamble is looking forward to receiving his high school diploma at the end of his first year at Colorado Mesa University.

The reason that sounds backwards but isn’t is because Gamble, 18, of Grand Junction, is one of 16 District 51 students participating this year in the Colorado ASCENT program, an acronym for Accelerating Students through Concurrent EnrollmeNT.

ASCENT participants finish all coursework needed to graduate high school by the end of 12th grade but have their diplomas withheld for an extra year so they can be counted as a fifth-year senior at their high school. Remaining a high school student allows them to take a full year’s worth of college classes for free, excluding the cost of textbooks. The student has to take those classes at a college that has agreed to partner with the student’s school district to pay a negotiated price for that student’s tuition and fees. The district uses money allocated per student by the state to pay that amount — $6,021 this year — to pay tuition and fees.

Gamble said he applied for ASCENT during his senior year at Fruita Monument High School because he had decided to attend Colorado Mesa anyway and thought it would be a good deal financially for his family. He also felt he had a better shot at getting into the program than applying for other, popular scholarships where he would be competing with thousands of other applicants. Just 19 students applied for ASCENT last year.

“It looked like an easy scholarship to go for — it didn’t look like many people were going to apply,” Gamble said.

In order to apply for ASCENT, students have to complete 12 college credit hours before the end of 12th grade, get approval to participate in the program from an administrator and complete prerequisites for the college classes they plan to take, and they must have no need for remedial classes. Approval is contingent on how much money the state agrees to give districts for fifth-year seniors, so finding out if a student is accepted to the program after high school graduation is common.

Gamble got his letter of acceptance two weeks after he walked in his high school graduation ceremony, where he received an empty diploma-holder in anticipation that he would get into the program. Gamble’s parents, Susan and Allan, said they didn’t have as much to be concerned about as some families, who may have a student waiting to decide where to attend school based on whether they got into the ASCENT program. Some students decide to choose an out-of-town school if they don’t get into the program or change plans based on what tuition, if any, they can afford.

“There are kids who might not have gone to college without ASCENT,” Susan Gamble said.

Seven District 51 students participated in ASCENT last year, as did 12 students from Delta County School District 50, according to the Colorado Department of High Education’s Annual Report on Concurrent Enrollment: 2012-13, released this month. All 19 of those students attended Colorado Mesa University and were the university’s only ASCENT students in 2012-13.

The report shows concurrent enrollment increased at both Colorado Mesa and in District 51 last year compared to 2011-12. Concurrent enrollment programs in the district include Early Scholars, where high school students took at least one class each on the CMU campus while still in their first four years of high school; Tech Scholars, where high school students take classes at Western Colorado Community College; and High School Scholars, a program where Colorado Mesa-trained District 51 teachers teach Colorado Mesa classes in language arts, social studies, science and math at all four traditional District 51 high schools.

District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen attributed the district’s increase in concurrent enrollment to a district-wide push in recent years for students to participate in classes and programs that get them ready for education or work after high school. However, he said the district has scaled back a bit. The district reduced a program that offered CMU remedial courses at Central and Fruita Monument to just Fruita Monument last year, where 51 students took remedial classes. The district also adjusted High School Scholars classes over the last three years so some schools had more college classes and some had less until Central, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Palisade each offered four classes each.

“We tried to make it an equal opportunity,” for students at each school, Larsen said.

Colorado Mesa offered High School Scholars or Early Scholars programming in person or online for 19 districts or online programs last year, reaching 955 students, according to the CDHE report. That figure included 512 Mesa County students, 257 Delta County students, 65 Montrose County students and two Garfield County students.

Another 23 Garfield County students, plus one each from Mesa and Montrose counties, participated in concurrent enrollment at Colorado Mountain College. Colorado Northwestern Community College had 27 Hotchkiss High students and 22 Ridgway High students in concurrent enrollment last year, and Front Range Community College, Northeastern Junior College and Pikes Peak Community College had one student each from Paonia, Collbran and New Castle, respectively.

According to the higher education report, concurrent students are more likely than their peers to go to college right after high school, earn more credit hours by the end of their freshman year, remain in college after freshman year, and have a higher GPA. They have a 23 percent better chance of enrolling in college and an 11.2 percent lower chance of needing remedial classes than other Colorado high school graduates.

# # #

ASCENT participants in 2012-13 came from:

* Aurora Public Schools: 137
* Denver Public Schools: 31
* Poudre School District: 14
* Delta School District 50 and Edison School District 54JT: 12 each
* Jefferson County Public School: Nine
* Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Thompson School District R2-J: Eight each
* Mesa County Valley School District 51 and Lamar School District RE-2: Seven each
* Widefield, Strasburg, Eagle County, and Colorado Springs 11 school districts: Five each
* Platte Canyon School District 1: Three
* Buena Vista School District: Two
* Mapleton, McClave, Montezuma-Cortez, Norwood, Park County, and Trinidad school districts: One each

Source: Colorado Department of Higher Education.


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