Polis: An innovative way to expand college access (column) | SummitDaily.com

Polis: An innovative way to expand college access (column)

Jared Polis
Special to the Daily

Nearly six years ago, in May 2009, the Colorado state Legislature passed a bill that created rules for concurrent enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take courses for college credit. Last year, 94 percent of school districts in our state participated in this program, with roughly 20,000 Colorado high schoolers taking advantage of the opportunity to work towards a college degree, for free, while in high school.

For many of these students, it means getting a head start on their college education, and saving thousands of dollars by knocking off course hours or an entire semester. For others, especially low-income or first-generation students, it means getting a first taste of what college is like and realizing it’s within their reach — students who participate in dual enrollment are 23 percent more likely to enroll in college.

No matter the motivations of each student, the concurrent — or dual — enrollment program in Colorado has been a model for the country. And it’s not just the big school districts like those in Fort Collins, Boulder or Denver that are taking advantage of the program (though those achievements have been noteworthy; at Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins, for example, 73 percent of the 135-member senior class will graduate this year with an Associate Degree).

Some of the best examples come from smaller districts in the mountains and our state’s rural areas.

Summit High School, for example, has used its proximity to Colorado Mountain College (CMC) to establish a strong dual enrollment program. They currently offer nine CMC courses with a goal of offering more than 20 next year. More than 100 of Summit’s juniors and seniors take at least one CMC course, most of which are taught by Summit High instructors who have been credentialed by CMC. Think biology, calculus, psychology, English composition and even wilderness response. Many of these students go onto CMC full-time after they graduate from Summit High while others use their credit hours toward completion of their bachelor’s degree at another university.

This program is a win for everyone — students who get a sense of what a college-level course is like and real, transferable credit; parents who can save on their student’s tuition bill; and our education system, which benefits from increased engagement and retention of its students. According to the annual report on concurrent enrollment released by the state last year, students who participated in dual enrollment programs in high school had higher first-year credit hour accumulation, grade point averages, and retention rates in college.

Unfortunately, Colorado isn’t the norm nationally. Few states take advantage of the many opportunities afforded by dual enrollment.

We’re trying to fix that at the federal level. Soon I will be partnering with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to introduce the Making Education Accessible and Affordable Act.

Our bill would incentivize colleges and universities across the country to partner with local schools on dual enrollment. Under our bill, which would not increase the federal deficit, higher education institutions would be allowed to use federal dollars that are already allocated to create and expand dual enrollment programs.

Improving the pathway for students between high school and higher education opportunities is a critical component of increasing the number of postsecondary degrees and reducing dropout rates.

It’s a realistic, nonpartisan way to improve access to college while decreasing the cost, and it’s a strategy with a proven record of success here in Colorado.

Jared Polis represents Colorado’s 2nd congressional district.

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