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Lamar Community College
Granada School District RE-1
John Hopper’s psychology class takes place in an unusual setting for a college course – inside a classroom in Granada Unified High School in the tiny town of Granada, Colo.
Nevertheless, about 38 students were in his class – a handful of students were in the room and the rest were watching the class live on TVs in schoolrooms throughout southeastern Colorado. Each student was taking the class both for high school and college credit.
Concurrent Enrollment programs allow high school students in Colorado who receive academic plan approval and meet application deadlines and college course requirements to enroll in postsecondary institutions and earn credit both towards graduation and towards higher education credentials. Several programs are offered throughout the state and some offer tuition reimbursement from the school district. In Concurrent Enrollment programs, districts pay for tuition up to the resident, on-campus community college rate.
The innovative program offered through Lamar Community College allows students from around the region to participate via distance learning without having to leave their school campuses. Twelve high schools in the region from the tiny Vilas RE-5 district with only 44 K-12 students to Lamar RE-2 with 1,670 students participate in the program.
Students log on from their classrooms to view the live streamed courses that are being taught by teachers credentialed through the community college. The result is nearly 30 percent of the 902 high school students in the area’s 12 districts took Concurrent Enrollment classes in 2017-18 – ranking among the highest percentages in the state.
“It’s a great way to reach students,” said Annessa Stagner Stulp, dean of academic services at Lamar Community College. “We can connect students with real instructors who are still within their service area and help them accomplish what they want. This is one way we are able to introduce students to college even though they may not recognize they are taking college classes because it is in their high schools. It’s comfortable, and it’s not costing mom and dad any money.”
The legislature recently passed legislation requiring every district in the state to provide Concurrent Enrollment opportunities for students from grades 9 to 12. And the efforts in southeastern Colorado show that it can be done by every district, no matter the size.
Take for example Granada School District RE-1. In 2017-18, 17 of its 54 ninth through 12th graders took a Concurrent Enrollment course.
“It is increasing every year,” said Hopper, who had about three dozen students in his morning psychology class – most of whom were participating via distance learning from other schools. “Last year we had two students graduate from Lamar Community College before they graduated from Granada High School. And one of them was my son. It saved me thousands of dollars. Believe me.”
Statewide, nearly 46,000 Colorado students participated in a Concurrent Enrollment program in 2017-18 – a number that increased by 10 percentage points over the previous year. That represents almost 35 percent of all 11th and 12th graders in the state. Those students attempted to obtain 264,304 credit hours through those courses with a 94% pass rate.
Additionally, more minority students are taking Concurrent Enrollment classes. In 2017-18, 17% more Hispanic students, 16% more black students and 18% more Native American students took Concurrent Enrollment classes than the previous year.
The state’s Concurrent Enrollment program was created by the legislature in 2009, allowing qualified high school students to take postsecondary courses, including academic or career and technical education courses, at a higher education institution.
The key ingredient is the credit earned is guaranteed to transfer to any other Colorado public postsecondary institution for little to no cost for the student.
“The benefit that students get here is they enter college with maybe a half a year of credits under their belts,” said Stagner Stulp, dean at Lamar Community College. “It really decreases the cost of higher education, which matters a lot to parents in this area. And it really gives students that extra boost in school. They have confidence, saying, ‘Wow, I already took college classes. I can do this. I can take more.’”
The distance learning model is one that can be adapted by any district, but is especially convenient for rural schools. The units that come with TV screens, video cameras and audio equipment cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
The Southeastern BOCES spearheaded the efforts in the beginning to bring the districts together, providing technical support and equipment for the participating surrounding districts.
For the Lamar Community College courses, educators must have a master’s degree and at least 18 hours of credits in the subject matter that they teach, Stagner Stulp said.
“All of our instructors are observed by full-time faculty or myself and we give them feedback,” she said. “We have annual meetings with our instructors. No matter the modality, the students are getting the same quality of education.”
The Colorado Department of Higher Education recently conducted a study that showed there was no measurable difference in quality of courses if offered at the high school rather than the institution of higher education campus.
To get into the classes, students must take an Accuplacer test and score at least in the 80th percentile for reading comprehension. Students who don’t pass the class have to pay back the tuition.
Hopper has been teaching distance learning for 15 years and has seen the popularity of the program grow every year. The distance learning program allows students who would have to drive 200 miles a day to take a college course be able to not stay in their classroom for the credits. He has seen rural schools that have trouble hiring teachers be able to offer college-level courses to their students.
“The advice for any district who wants to do dual credit or AP or International Baccalaureate, I think this system works,” he said. “My advice to you is to get some training. It doesn’t take long for a teacher to learn how it works. It’s a great system and works like you are in any classroom. It’s not like it’s online. It’s live. It’s between me and you.”