Getting a head start on career pathways

How many college grads — still saddled with student loans — wish they could have knocked a year off of college before they even graduated from high school?

Especially if they could do it for free.

That’s the reality for a growing number of Colorado students, thanks to an innovative program authorized by state law to plump up college- and workplace-readiness among high-schoolers.

The Legislature approved the Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act in 2009. Before then, programs that allowed high school students to simultaneously take college courses existed, but enrollment was limited due to a variety of factors. The law created a statewide framework to better coordinate and support students in dual-enrollment programs.

And it’s not just college-bound students. Those who want to go into a particular vocational field, such as diesel mechanics, have the same opportunities for free post-diploma education while they’re still in high school.

Statewide, the number of students in concurrent enrollment has grown from 6,437 in the fall of 2010 to nearly 27,000 in the 2012-13 academic year. That’s about 22 percent of all high school juniors and seniors in the state.

One program, ASCENT, which stands for Accelerating Students through Concurrent Enrollment, allows students to stay in high school for a fifth year so they graduate with a diploma and get a full year’s worth of college credits for free.

The school district uses money allocated per student by the state to cover the college tuition costs.

Statewide, only 291 students took advantage of this opportunity, but 19 of them enrolled at Colorado Mesa University. Enrollment is by scholarship application.

School District 51 has a variety of concurrent enrollment programs, mainly through CMU and Western Colorado Community College.

Programs that provide a seamless transition to higher education or career training, we think, are an excellent use of taxpayer dollars. As we do a better job of developing a highly skilled workforce, we all reap the benefits.


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