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Concurrent enrollment an upward trend

Editorís note: This is the second in a series about education issues locally and nationwide.When students from the class of 2013 graduated college, they had an average of $28,400 in student loan debt, according to the ninth annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success. In six states, that average was more than $30,000; and only one, New Mexico, came in below $20,000.ìHigh student loan debt, risky private loans, and even low debt when paired with low earnings, can hold borrowers back from starting a family, buying a home, saving for retirement, starting a business, or saving for their own childrenís education,î according to the report.Falcon School District 49 chief education officer Peter Hilts said the district recognizes the burden that paying for college places on students and families, and D 49 has addressed the issue through concurrent or dual enrollment. ìKids can start doing college work when theyíre ready for it, and all of the coursework while theyíre in high school is free,î Hilt said. ìEvery class that they can take while theyíre in high school is one less class they have to save for or take a loan out on. It helps on the student loan and student debt side because they get free tuition, and because they know what kind of classes they want to take when they get into a post high school setting.îThe Colorado State Legislature passed the Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act in May 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Educationís website. The Act defined concurrent enrollment as students ìsimultaneously enrolled in a local education provider and in an institute of higher education or career and technical courses.î The Act also states that school districts must reimburse concurrent coursework at the in-state resident community college tuition rate. All concurrently enrolled students are classified as Colorado residents.Mary Perez is the D 49 director of concurrent enrollment. She said every secondary school in the district, including the nontraditional Patriot Learning Center and Falcon Virtual Academy, is working on introducing some form of concurrent enrollment. ìItís a big undertaking,î Perez said. ìIf they can all afford it, they would like to.î Perez said the district currently has 20 students enrolled in concurrent enrollment classes for the fall semester, and it appears that about 50 will be enrolled for the spring semester. ìWe donít have the funding to open up the whole district to concurrent enrollment,î she said.Diane Forsythe, career and technical education director at Academy School District 20, said the districtís dual enrollment program started in 1997. The district currently has memorandums of understanding with several colleges and universities, she said. Through those MOUs, the district receives a monetary reimbursement from the colleges based on how many credits a student completes, Forsythe said.ìIt is financially a benefit for the family, but it gets the kids on a pathway,î Forsythe said. ìAll the kids are required by law to have an individual career and academic plan, andwe use that tool to determine which pathway theyíre going.ìIt provides the students with an opportunity to explore and discover their areas of interest in a fiscally responsible manner. Itís good for students to have this opportunity because sometimes they find out that they donít really like something. It gives them a chance to explore post-secondary options or career options without costing them a lot.îAurora Umana-Arko, principal of the Early College High School & Career Pathways in Colorado Springs School District 11, said the district is almost a year and a half into the early college program, which blends high school and college level work into a single academic program. All the teachers at the Early College High School are adjunct professors through Pikes Peak Community College and Adams State College so students can take classes at the high school or at PPCCís Centennial campus.The Career Pathways program offers high school courses at an accelerated rate, which allows for college credit, said Dan Hoff, career and technical director for D 11. The difference is that students receive industry certification in their field of study. ìStudents can go into the industry with a certification and work, and they still have the experience of college rigor to continue,î Hoff said. ìIf they canít handle the academic part to continue with college, they have the certification to fall back on.îPerez said D 49 offers similar ìarticulatedî courses, where students get college credit while taking high school courses. Students graduate with a certification in a field of their choosing. Forsythe said D 20 also has articulated courses that allow students to graduate and immediately enter the workforce.After attending a conference sponsored by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, Perez said it is clear that concurrent enrollment is the direction education is headed across the country. States are stepping up to help high school teachers get the continuing education credits they need to become adjunct professors, so they can teach college courses to students participating in concurrent enrollment.ìWe have made a mistake in the last 30 years in thinking that everybody has to go to a four-year college, and that is just wrong,î Perez said. ìInstead, students are navigating the distractions of an adult learning environment, learning to self-advocate and use free resources like writing centers, libraries and tutors ó all while theyíre in high school. By the time we deliver them back to their parents to go onto whatever degree or program they want to, they will already have those skills. Parents are going to start demanding college courses for their high schools students.î

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