Voices in Education

Opening Doors to Postsecondary Education for More Students
With education headlines about my home state of California reading along the lines of, “LA Unified School District Cancels Bulk of Summer School Programs,” (Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009), it is inspiring to read headlines coming out of Colorado such as, “Bill Helps High Schoolers Go to College” (INDenver Times, April 13, 2009). Given the budget crises in states across the country, it is exciting that Colorado’s policymakers are taking a forward-thinking view that paying a little extra now could have large pay-offs down the road.

HB 1319 uses concurrent enrollment as the primary lever to double the numbers of students who complete a postsecondary degree, reduce the high school drop-out rate, and create pathways between high schools and postsecondary institutions. Concurrent enrollment programs offer high school students the opportunity to take postsecondary courses and earn both high school and college credit for those courses. Some programs focus on providing access to core courses, some focus more on using electives as a way to engage students, and others provide access to both.

Colorado’s legislation is an attempt to remove the biggest barrier to largescale concurrent enrollment—how to fund both high schools and postsecondary institutions—to open the doors for high school students to complete college courses. It also helps align Colorado with some of the criteria for the federal stimulus dollars.

Concurrent enrollment has historically been an avenue for traditionally college-bound students. There is a movement afoot, nationally, led by the Boston-based organization Jobs for the Future and others, to urge states, regions, and local partnerships to broaden access to concurrent enrollment to historically underserved students, such as first generation college-goers. The underlying theory is that students who are not traditionally viewed as collegebound can benefit from concurrent enrollment because such programs can save low income students time and money toward pursuing a postsecondary degree, and they can offer a more engaging curricula.

Under the new legislation, Colorado will allow both high schools and college to count concurrently enrolled students in their funding formula. Parents and guardians must agree to reimburse the district if the student doesn't complete a class. HB 1319 also addresses key issues such as who can teach the course (higher education faculty members do not have to have a teacher’s license), the development of an academic plan, governance (the Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Board), and the kinds of data that must be collected.

Transportation costs are not covered, and crucial issues such as student supports (to get students up to speed so that they can then accelerate), scaffolding curriculum and instruction to help students get ready for the program, and logistical issues such as aligning high school and postsecondary calendars and schedules are not addressed thoroughly. Those issues will need to be dealt with at the local level, and can make or break programs.

I work with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s network of Early College Schools (ECSs)—schools that use concurrent enrollment as a mechanism to offer students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degee and high school diploma when they graduate from high school. The first cohort of graduates from all ECS networks is showing great promise. Forty percent graduated with over a year’s worth of college credit, just over 80 percent matriculated directly into a postsecondary institution, and 92% graduated from high school. I hope other states will follow Colorado’s lead and, in this time of scarcity, invest in programs that could yield high rates of return for students, and for state-level economies.

About the Author: Andrea Venezia is a Senior Policy Associate at WestEd where she directs projects focused on increasing opportunities for traditionally underserved students to prepare for some form of postsecondary education. Prior to joining WestEd, she worked at a variety of non-profit organizations and governmental agencies, including the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.