Jordan Schneider, 18, graduated from Manitou Springs High School in May 2004 and attended Loyola University in New Orleans last fall. By Christmas break she was a sophomore.
Schneider took three classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs while still in high school. She picked up more college credits by taking an advanced placement exam in English, and she avoided a college math requirement by taking high school calculus. Before her first day of college, she had earned the equivalent of 15 hours of college credit — roughly five classes. Ambitious high school students can save thousands of dollars in college tuition or vocational certifications by taking advantage of school-funded programs that offer a jumpstart on post-secondary education. They can finish school faster or take on more course work, say for a minor or second major. In some cases, students can graduate with vocational certifications or associate’s degrees already in hand. Others start at fouryear colleges as sophomores. Thanks to credits they earned in high school, 51 students attended Colorado College in 2004-2005 who had begun there as sophomores. Exactly what credits colleges grant varies from school to school, said Jim Henderson, a vice chancellor at UCCS. Still, most schools accept at least a few pre-earned credits. At Manitou, students in the top 20 percent of their class are eligible to take college classes on the school district’s dime. They must make at least a C for the school to pay. Schneider, who wants to be a journalist, took two economics classes and a Spanish class at UCCS her senior year. That allowed her to major in journalism and work on two minors — economics and political science — and stay on a four-year track. Schneider got a full scholarship to Loyola, a private Jesuit school, but when she signed up at UCCS, she didn’t know that would happen. Each class, for her, spelled savings. The region’s smallest district, Edison School District, spent nearly $50,000 last year on tuition, books and fees at UCCS and Pikes Peak Community College, said Superintendent Dave Grosche. The expense is significant in a $1.4 million budget, but Grosche said it was far cheaper than trying to offer the college or vocational programs in-house. One Edison student, now a senior, plans to take all his classes at UCCS next year, or about 10 hours of credits, Grosche said. “I get in trouble sometimes because I am so aggressive about sending my kids to college or vocational classes,” Grosche said about taking criticism from his school board. “I don’t want them to be penalized for being out here in a rural environment.” Edison students have become mechanics or welders straight out of high school, Grosche said. For some, especially low-income students, those certifications wouldn’t have come after graduation. The students would have headed straight into the work world. Liberty High School, in Academy School District 20, is big enough to offer 18 advanced-placement classes of its own. Students who score high on those AP tests often get college credits. For $75 a test, students get a chance to avoid hundreds of dollars in tuition. This year’s valedictorian took all 18 classes, said Tom Weston, Liberty High School principal. A couple of college-level courses can also make the transition from high school to college easier, Schneider said. “I think it’s an experience in maturity and responsibility,” Schneider said. “Freedom is the best part of college, and if you get a tiny little taste of it, you’re not going to get overwhelmed by it.” HOW TO EARN COLLEGE CREDIT There are three basic ways to earn post-secondary credits while in high school: Advanced-placement classes: The college-level material taught in the classes prepares students for AP exams, offered at the end of the year. Most colleges give credits to students who succeed on the tests. College or vocational classes : Some high schools, including rural schools in eastern El Paso County, allow students to take college or vocational classes that also count toward high school diplomas. High school students can attend classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College. International Baccalaureate programs: These are offered by Academy School District 20 and Colorado Springs School District 11, the region’s two largest districts. The nonprofit International Baccalaureate Organization gives schools a rigorous curriculum. Students can earn credits for individual IB courses by taking exams or submitting portfolios of work, said Bill Thompson, IB coordinator at D-20’s Rampart High School. Students who get an IB diploma — earned through a series of tests — can get a year or more of college credit. In Colorado, students who graduate with an IB diploma are guaranteed up to 24 hours of college credit at any state-funded college.