High-schoolers get head start on college work

Fruita Monument High School students listen to teacher Jaye Sarapata, standing at center, as they take a college-level English class at the high school. Sarapata is also an adjunct professor at Colorado Mesa University.

High school students across western Colorado are taking college courses without leaving their high school campuses.

The High School Scholars program allows teachers in 17 Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel and Grand County high schools to teach Colorado Mesa University classes to high school juniors and seniors using the same curriculum, syllabus and textbooks students use in the same entry-level courses on the CMU campus.

The teachers have master’s degrees and are trained as Colorado Mesa adjunct professors to offer college-level math, science, English and history classes at the same schools where they teach high school courses.

Students take the classes for free and earn college credit. Their school district pays a reduced tuition price to offer the Colorado Mesa courses and a $60 fee that students must re-pay if they don’t earn at least a C in the class. It’s a great way for kids to get a taste of college and can help take the fear out of pursuing a higher education after high school, according to Fruita Monument High School counselor and High School Scholars coordinator Bob Corneille.

And because the tuition costs the school district less than taking a class on a university campus, students can take as many of the High School Scholars classes as they can fit into their schedule. District 51 students are limited to two classes per semester at Colorado Mesa or Western Colorado Community College because the district pays a full $218.20 per credit hour tuition rate for high school students to take those classes.

“This is huge for our kids. It gets them over the mindset of ‘Am I college material?’ and it cuts down on transportation” to CMU or WCCC, Corneille said.

Fruita Monument is one of four District 51 high schools offering the program. Fruita Monument English teacher Jaye Sarapata teaches one of the eight Colorado Mesa courses offered at the school. She said students in her courses take seriously the threat of re-paying the district if they fail.

“This group is very ambitious. They know they have to do well to earn college credit,” Sarapata said.

Seniors in Sarapata’s class have various reasons for trying to get ahead in credits. Haley Assenmacher said she wants to graduate college in three years post-high school. She will graduate from Fruita Monument with 21 credits under her belt.

Kelsi Bradley said she wants to start early because it typically takes 12 years, with internships and a residency, for a person to become what she wants to be, an anesthesiologist. Zach Becker is taking classes on the district dime to save money on his eventual tuition bill. Donna Dobbs wanted a taste of college work.

“It gets us a step ahead so we’re prepared for college when we get there,” she said.

Colleges encourage that preparation. Western Colorado Community College Director of Student Services Heather Exby said students who come prepared for college tend to stay in college until graduation. That ensures a steady stream of tuition for the school.

Exby said taking college courses in high school also aids in retention because students get basics out of the way sooner and can get to the subjects they love most early. The most common courses high school students take while enrolled at local institutions of higher education are English I and II, Biology 101, college algebra and U.S. History, she said. General education classes are guaranteed to transfer to any college or university in Colorado.

“They’re pretty practical,” Exby said of the high-schoolers taking college classes.

They’re also more interested than ever in college credits. The number of students participating in High School Scholars increased 45 percent year-over-year in 2010–11 to 256 participants. The number of high school students from any district participating in post-secondary classes through Colorado Mesa or Western Colorado Community College jumped from 425 in spring 2011 to 601 in spring 2012.

College in many forms

District 51 Executive Director of High Schools Bill Larsen believes it is the district’s responsibility to help successfully transition students from high school to college through concurrent experiences. That help comes at a price.

District 51 receives $6,137 for each of its students according to the state funding formula. That amount is enough to fully cover current tuition costs for each student who takes a college class on or off their high school campus, Larsen said.

Costs vary by the type of program a student chooses to enroll both in high school and college, which is referred to as concurrent enrollment. Aside from High School Scholars, local students can opt for the following programs, all of which cost the district Colorado Mesa’s $218.20 tuition rate per credit hour:

■ The Early Scholars program is the most traditional form of concurrent enrollment, where high school students take one or more classes at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction or Montrose and the rest of their classes at their home high school.

■ The Technical Scholars program allows high school students to take classes at Western Colorado Community College and their home high schools.

■ ASCENT, which stands for Accelerating Students through Concurrent EnrollmeNT, allows students to remain in high school for an extra year after finishing all credits needed to graduate high school and enroll full-time in the Colorado Mesa system for an entire school year before receiving a high school diploma. This program replaced Fast Track, which was very similar to ASCENT.

Larsen said ASCENT, often the most expensive concurrent option, was in danger of not being approved by the state Legislature last year. If last year is any indication, legislators will decide by this May if ASCENT will happen in 2012–13.

Eleven District 51 students are waiting to hear if they will be approved to participate in ASCENT next school year. Exby said she tells students to continue to apply to colleges in the meantime in case the program doesn’t work out for them.

“In people’s hearts they really do support concurrent enrollment. That being said, if I’m one of those representatives in the statehouse trying to balance the budget, I think it would be very difficult,” Exby said.

Getting creative

Students must have a 3.0 grade point average, pass a placement test, apply for college admission and have their school district approve the class they want to take before they can enroll. Larsen said students who don’t take general education courses often pursue classes that are offered at a higher level than their high school can offer. Often those students have exhausted all of their Advanced Placement class options in a particular subject, he said.

Both Advanced Placement classes and concurrent enrollment programs could be subject to budget cuts at the district or state level next school year. Palisade and Central high schools are applying for a Colorado Legacy Schools grant for AP programs. The grant program already is helping fund advanced classes at Grand Junction and Fruita Monument high schools.


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Thank you for publishing this great information!  Our kids need all the help they can get as they try to make their way in this world.

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