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High school students taking more college courses, but it isn’t enough for lawmakers

Colorado State Capitol
Colorado State Capitol
J. Zubrzycki

More than one-third of 11th and 12th graders took college courses during the 2017-18 academic year.

That’s still less than the 50 percent targeted by the state.

Neither of those are good enough for state Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican.

“Let’s make it 100 percent eventually,” he said. “Every student in high school should experience something that reaches beyond high school.”

Lundeen is one of four primary sponsors — two Republicans and two Democrats — seeking to increase concurrent enrollment in two-year, four-year or technical schools for Colorado high school students. Senate Bill 176 will be heard by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning.

That hearing comes after the Monday release of a report about dual enrollment, in which high school students take college courses along with their regular classes. The aim is to allow students to get college credit at no cost and encourage students to continue their education after high school.

That especially applies to high-schoolers who come from families with no college background.

“If we can get them the experience while they are still in high school, we can get them to believe they can in fact succeed at a higher level,” Lundeen said.

The state’s concurrent enrollment program allows students to take college-level classes that earn them both high school and post-secondary credits. School districts, reimbursed by the state, cover tuition.

Created by the legislature in 2009, concurrent enrollment is the most popular of the dual enrollment programs. Another Colorado program allows students to stay in high school for a fifth year to earn an associate degree or certificate at no cost. And some students take college courses directly, paying the tuition on their own.

According to Monday’s report:

  • Nearly 46,000 high school students took dual enrollment classes in the 2017-18 school year.
  • The number of students enrolled in concurrent enrollment courses increased by 9.5 percent over the previous year.
  • Nearly 16,000 students took college or vocational courses through a program allowing students to attend high school for a fifth year in order to earn an associate degree or certificate.

“I’ve long been a vocal supporter of concurrent enrollment programs and am heartened to see participation grow, especially among our students of color,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a news release. “These programs are a key way we can contain higher education costs for Coloradans and encourage more students to earn a credential.”

Participation in dual enrollment programs increased among non-white students in 2017-18. But numbers for some groups still lag their proportion of the population.

For instance, the number of Hispanic students in concurrent enrollment classes grew by 17 percent. But those students were 33 percent of the high school population, and only 25 percent of concurrent enrollment students. However, Latinos made up 40 percent of the students receiving degrees or certificates by attending high school for an extra year.

Lundeen said SB176 is aimed at increasing participation in concurrent enrollment by improving communication with parents and students, encouraging teacher training so districts may offer more courses, and getting the handful of districts that don’t participate to embrace the program.

“We need a culture change,” he said. “Right now, potentially all students are underserved. The culture isn’t ‘this is going to be available for everyone.’”

The measure was to include $1.5 million for grants to schools to expand such programs. But Lundeen said the money won’t be available this year because the budget is tapped out. He said he hopes to see the new funding in future years.

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