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How Colorado students are saving money, even earning 'free' college degrees

Concurrent enrollment programs help thousands
Posted: 4:26 PM, Aug 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-26 19:55:50-04
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For a lot of graduating high school students, the next stop is college. But 16 year old Noelle “Ellie” Mayer already is already several steps ahead of her classmates.

Mayer was 11 when she started courses at Arapahoe Community College. A rarity for sure, but she’s one of thousands of Colorado high school students taking advantage of concurrent enrollment.

“We have 27,000 students who participate every year through our (community) colleges, and 2,000 of them are earning a degree or certificate while they’re still in high school,” said Landon Pirius, Vice Chancellor with the Colorado Community College System.

MORE: As student debt continues to grow, some wonder if college is worth the price of admission

In Colorado, the school districts pay for concurrent enrollment classes, which typically earn the student both high school and college credit. So students who complete enough credits for an associate’s degree while in high school have essentially earned a “free degree.”

For students like Isaiah Curtis, concurrent enrollment made college possible.

“I’m one of six kids, number four in line, and at this point we have all been in concurrent enrollment, or currently are in concurrent enrollment,” said Curtis, now 20 years old.

He finished 30 credits at Front Range Community College while still attending Frederick High School.

With student loan debt in the United States reaching an estimated $1.5 trillion dollars, schools and politicians have looked for ways to make college more affordable. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed free public college. It’s a tough sell for many voters, even Curtis who believes an education shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“I do want to work, I want to work for a degree, I want to put something into it,” said Curtis.

Concurrent enrollment reduces the cost of college, but many students will still incur tuition when the move on to finish a bachelors or advanced degree.

"Seventy-seven percent of students who participate in concurrent enrollment do go on to college here in Colorado, and those who go in with concurrent enrollment credits are more likely to complete (college)," said Pirius.

Mayer was able to complete an associate's degree through concurrent enrollment, but will continue her studies at Colorado State University this fall, entering as a junior. Curtis plans to pursue a master’s degree in engineering at CU Boulder.

Both say high students who take even just one college course can get something valuable out of it.

“I feel like concurrent enrollment really allowed me to hone in on what I needed to do, if I had a paper to write, the guidelines were really simple,” said Curtis.

Mayer agreed, adding, “if you want that super traditional high school experience all day, it may not be for you, but if you’re willing to give it a shot you can go for it.”

How much you can save through concurrent enrollment in Colorado:

Cost of three credit concurrent enrollment course: $0
Typical cost of three credit college course at a Community College: $148
Typical cost of three credit college course at a 4-year University (in-state): $450

Cost of 60 credits (associate's degree) through concurrent enrollment: $0
Cost of 60 credits at a Community College: $9,000
Cost of 60 credits at 4-year University: $27,000