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Good news about college attendance

A significantly higher number of state high school graduates may go to college than previously thought, according to a new study presented Thursday to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Montage of Colorado colleges
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Some 66.8 percent – 33,484 students of the 50,174 who graduated from state high schools in 2009 – went on to college in Colorado or out of state.

Up to now policymakers have had to guess about the number of students who attended colleges in other states because the only data available was for Colorado graduates who went to state colleges and universities. The new study reported that 22,657 students attended Colorado schools and 10,827 went out of state or to Colorado private colleges.

“That’s huge,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said of the report. “It gives us a more positive picture. … We’re doing better than we realized.” Garcia also is director of the Department of Higher Education and the Hickenlooper administration lead person on education issues.

But the report also found gaps in college attendance among ethnic groups, the same kinds of gaps that are found in test scores, high school graduation and other indicators.

“While college participation is strong in the state, historical disparities in postsecondary attendance, financial need and performance among students from different groups persist,” noted the report.

Compiling the first-ever report was made possible by use of unique student identification numbers that allowing tracking of students from K-12 into higher education and by the ability of state researchers to track Colorado graduates through a national database. Those tools haven’t been available in the past.

The report, required by the comprehensive 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, will be done annually, said Beth Bean, director of research and information at DHE. She briefed the commission on the report.

While the report provides a snapshot of only one set of high school graduates who went to college the following fall, Bean and Garcia both said the information is important and that future reports will build a broader picture of college attendance.

Commission members also were pleased with the report. “It’s so nice to see some accurate data,” said chair Hereford Percy.

The report found:

  • More female students in the group, 70.4 percent, went to college than males, 64.6 percent.
  • 78.2 percent of Asian high school graduates went to college, 72.8 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of blacks, 48.7 percent of Hispanics and 48.2 percent of Native Americans. Black students showed the highest percentage attending college out of state, 25.8 percent.

The report also revealed some interesting details about students who attended Colorado colleges and universities, including:

  • The average grade point average for the students in their freshman year was 2.65 percent.
  • Three quarters of the students had completed more than 15 hours of coursework by the end of 2010.
  • Nearly 29 percent of the students received federal Pell grants.
  • About 7,500 students went to two-year colleges and about 14,700 to four-year schools.

The report also provided information for individual schools districts. Here’s a list of the state’s 10 largest districts by enrollment and the percentage of their 2009 graduates who attended college the following fall:

  • Adams 12-Five Star – 62.1
  • Aurora – 46.2
  • Cherry Creek – 75.1
  • Colorado Springs 11 – 57.6
  • Denver – 54.6
  • Douglas County – 77.4
  • Jefferson County – 75.7
  • Poudre – 76.1
  • St. Vrain – 69.6
  • Thompson – 65

Commission reverses old policy

The CCHE Thursday also voted unanimously to reverse a 26-year-old policy that banned Colorado colleges from offering bachelor’s degrees with a major in early childhood education.

A DHE staff memo (read it here) noted that at that time such programs weren’t considered sufficiently rigorous. In 1986, the commission ruled that teacher candidates had to earn bachelor’s degrees with majors in a subject field such as English or math.

The memo noted that the field has changed and recommended the commission reverse the ban.

Department staffers also are studying a similar old ban on bachelor’s degrees with elementary education majors. But Ian Macgillivray, assistant deputy director of academic affairs, said that issue needs more work.

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