Vail Daily column: A jump on college — for free | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: A jump on college — for free

Dr. Kathryn Regjo
Valley Voices
Kathryn Regjo

“College students are more than $1 trillion in debt!” scream national headlines. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And smart students and their families in Eagle County know why: These students are graduating from high school with as much as half their college education paid for, at no cost to them.

How can this possibly happen, you ask?

In 2002, Colorado Mountain College in Edwards and Eagle County Schools made the bold decision to fully participate in courses made possible by the state’s Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act, calling for the availability of dual-enrollment coursework at Colorado high schools.

Our dual-enrollment courses at the local high schools are, in fact, college courses offered by Colorado Mountain College, taught by Colorado Mountain College faculty. These faculty, qualified by the college, are also the same faculty teaching within Eagle County Schools. This is a testament to the educational talents available to our youth in the valley. Students who successfully complete a dual-enrollment course receive both credit for completing a high school requirement and college credit.

What does earning college credit do for a student while in high school? First, it can shorten the amount of time it takes to earn his or her associate or bachelor’s degree, because the credits earned while in high school transfer to Colorado Mountain College and other colleges and universities within the state of Colorado. Second, the courses are free for students thanks to the state’s concurrent enrollment program, which means students can save thousands of dollars in tuition.

The partnership, variety of courses offered and ultimately enrollment has grown over the past decade, with the 2014-15 school year supporting 408 students enrolling in at least one or more dual-enrollment courses. Last year we also celebrated five students who graduated with an associate degree from Colorado Mountain College — at the same time they graduated from high school.

This year, both Colorado Mountain College and Eagle County Schools are pleased to report that for the fall semester alone 587 students have enrolled in more than 950 college credits — a 44 percent increase in the number of students participating compared to last year.

While these courses available for students are long known for their quality, their financial benefits are not always fully understood. No matter how you look at it, the tuition savings these students and families are realizing is phenomenal. Considering CMC’s commitment to affordability and keeping in-district tuition levels affordable (currently at $57 per credit hour), just this fall alone students have saved $54,150 in tuition. Considering the tuition price of institutions like the University of Colorado at Boulder, the savings can equate to as much as, or even more than, a million dollars.

Some of this increase is directly related to another great endeavor of Eagle County Schools and Colorado Mountain College, to partner in ways that fully ensure college readiness in math and English for all local high school graduates. This fall CMC started courses for students whose Accuplacer scores fell below the level needed for them to enter into college-level, dual-enrollment math courses. These new courses provide a bridge semester that still qualifies as high school credit toward high school graduation. But they also allow students who successfully complete the bridge-semester courses to continue into college-level math in the spring semester. This fall, more than 60 students are taking these courses across Eagle County high schools.

These students — who have historically not been eligible to take college-level courses because of their Accuplacer test scores — are now given the opportunity to refresh their skills while still in high school and persist into college-level coursework the next semester. This saves them both time (as much as an entire semester of college) and money towards a college education.

Through these efforts, Colorado Mountain College and Eagle County Schools remain vigilant pioneers to meaningfully address some of the biggest challenges facing students. Smart Eagle County students look to education as the launching pad for their future careers. They know the importance of coming to college fully ready, and paying for that college education without taking on excessive debt.

Kathryn Regjo is the campus vice president of Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.