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Gazette Premium Content More Colorado Springs-area students earning free college credit while still in high school

By Debbie Kelley Updated: March 28, 2014 at 2:39 pm

More high school students are graduating with free college credit under their belts as a result of 2009 legislation, according to an annual report released Thursday.

Compiled by the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Department of Education, the report shows 2,706 students in the Pikes Peak region enrolled in some type of college-level courses for credit during the 2012-2013 school year. Pikes Peak Community College had a total of 1,857 students, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs had 849.

The numbers are up from 955 for PPCC and 74 for UCCS in the prior academic year. However, there are several "dual enrollment" programs available to students. And 2012-2013 was the first year for both PPCC and UCCS to report enrollment from the largest one, which was created under the 2009 legislation known as The Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act.

Statewide, 26,900 students participated in a dual enrollment program in 2012-2013, or 22 percent of all juniors and seniors attending Colorado public high schools.

The total amount of students involved was a 12 percent increase from 2011-2012.

Dual enrollment refers to high school students who are simultaneously enrolled in one or more postsecondary courses at a college or university. The definition covers academic or career and technical education courses.

The Pikes Peak region is trailing the state trend, said Brenda Bautsch, research and policy analyst for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

"The program is continuing to grow every year. We're seeing more schools and districts adopting concurrent programs as they realize the benefits, and that's the case in El Paso and Teller counties," she said.

Among the benefits, according to the report, is that dual enrollment is associated with a 23 percent increase in the likelihood of a student enrolling in college and a 10 percent decrease in the need for remediation.

The concept is one strategy states are using to improve college readiness, increase college completion rates and decrease high school dropout rates.

"These programs help students develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to be postsecondary and workforce ready," the report says.

One of the biggest advantages is that students pay no tuition for the courses. Each public school district strikes cooperative agreements with the colleges and universities, Bautsch said, and negotiates rates. Generally, they are in line with in-state tuition costs, she said. Districts pay the tuition out of their budgets, including from per-pupil funding from the state.

This year's report, which was submitted to the education committees of the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives, did not tally the amount of money districts spent on tuition.

Bautsch said the state education departments hope to get "institution-specific financial data" in future reports.

Local districts with the most participants in the state's "concurrent enrollment" program for 2012-2013 were: Academy District 20, 166 students; Colorado Springs School District 11, 113; and Falcon District 49, 92. Smaller districts had the highest percentage of students involved, though. Twenty-six percent of Edison 54JT's high school students participated and 22 percent of Ellicott District 22's.

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