More high school students make the grade in college

High school wasn’t moving fast enough for Fruita Monument High School senior Lindsey Whitesides.

The 17-year-old exhausted all science and math courses at her school by the end of her junior year.

So she decided to take advantage of concurrent enrollment, a state-mandated offering that allows school districts to pay a student’s tuition to take a college course. Whitesides is taking calculus and two physics courses at Colorado Mesa University this year as a senior.

All she has to pay is the cost of textbooks and a student fee.

“It goes at a fast pace, and it’s so interesting,” Whitesides said of her modern physics class. “I like that it actually feels like a college class. High school can kind of be pushover time. In college, you get 10 points off if you don’t staple a paper.”

Whitesides is part of a growing trend of western Colorado students choosing to take college courses before high school graduation.

In 2011-12, 687 students participated in some form of concurrent enrollment at Colorado Mesa University, up from 674 the previous year, according to a recently released study by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

That gave Colorado Mesa the highest concurrent enrollment participation rate in the state when students came to the school attached to a district.

Concurrent enrollment programs offered through CMU include the standard method of a high school student taking a college class on-campus at Colorado Mesa or Western Colorado Community College, or the High School Scholars program, which involves high school students taking a college-level course at their high school that is taught by a high school teacher certified by Colorado Mesa to teach the university’s curriculum off-site.

High School Scholars classes are offered at all four traditional high schools in District 51 and at high schools in Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Grand, Montezuma, San Miguel, Park and Routt counties.

Brigitte Sundermann, vice president of community college affairs for Colorado Mesa and the community college, said the school wanted to reach out to various high schools so students who may not otherwise have a chance to take a college-level course could try one before college.

The program can be a recruitment tool and can increase success when students arrive at college. The Department of Higher Education study found 85 percent of concurrently enrolled students enrolled in college the fall after high school graduation, compared to 50 percent of their peers.

Concurrent students also were more likely to stick around, with 78 percent of Colorado college freshmen in 2010-11 and 2011-12 sticking around for their sophomore year if they had participated in concurrent enrollment, compared to a 58 percent retention rate for other freshmen in the state.

“We’re trying to give these students a step up toward their college education” both financially and academically, Sundermann said. “If they get a C or above, their class is paid for.”

School districts pay about half-price for Colorado Mesa courses through an agreement with the school. The funding comes from money each school district receives per student in the state education funding formula, which gave District 51 $6,141 per student this year.

District 51 uses $5,800 per student from the funding formula to send students through the ASCENT program, another level of concurrent enrollment.

ASCENT allows students to finish their high school graduation requirements but remain enrolled in high school for a fifth year while taking college courses on the district dime. Students have to earn at least a 3.0 grade point average in high school (the same standard for all concurrent students) and earn 12 college credits before the end of 12th grade to participate.

Eight District 51 students are participating in the program this year and 19 have applied to participate in 2013-14.

District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen said the program doesn’t hurt the district financially because per-student funding covers tuition. But it does hurt district statistics.

“The part we’re not crazy about is that ASCENT students count against our on-time graduation rate,” Larsen said.

Larsen said some districts don’t actively advertise the availability of ASCENT because of the impact on graduation rates, and some don’t want to budget for ASCENT students before a mid-February deadline with the state when the possibility remains that a student could decide not to participate later in the year if they get a better scholarship offer at another school.

District 51 does make ASCENT and other concurrent programs widely known, though, according to Fruita Monument counselor and High School Scholars Coordinator Bob Corneille, to give kids a sampling of the college experience.

As a result, District 51 has the fifth-highest ASCENT participation rate in Colorado among the 16 districts that supply the state’s 129 ASCENT students and a concurrent participation rate last year of 286 students.

“We want every student to know they are more than likely college material,” Corneille said. “The sooner we can get them hooked into that, the better.”

Fruita Monument senior Morgan Young, 17, said she wanted to participate in concurrent enrollment to get a head-start on her agriculture production and agricultural business degree at Lamar Community College, where she will start school this fall on a softball scholarship. She will graduate this May with 12 credits in English and algebra that she earned through the High School Scholars program.

“I wanted to get my basics out of the way and (the classes) are already here, so I might as well get a taste of college before I go,” Young said. “It makes more sense financially.”

Whitesides said she may have up to 60 credits when she starts college full time because of her concurrent classes and Advanced Placement test scores.

She said she is having fun in her evening physics class this semester, but it hasn’t always been easy. Students weren’t as motivated in the lower-level physics course she took last semester, she said, and she had to drive from her home in the Redlands to Colorado Mesa, then drive back to Fruita for high school classes. On lab days, she had to drive back to CMU after her day at Fruita Monument.

“It was a lot of driving,” she said. “It took a lot of time out of my schedule.”

She also finds it hard to make friends with fellow college students she never sees away from class. Back at high school, not many people can help with her advanced homework.

“If there’s a problem I’m stuck on, I have to figure it out myself,” she said.


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