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State graduation rates increase and families save millions with high school college credit classes

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Posted at 10:22 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 01:02:06-05

DENVER— Graduation rates in Colorado hit a new high during a ten-year span. The state graduation rate increased 9.5% since 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).

The latest report also shows a growing trend in college credit enrollment while in high school.

High school programs like Concurrent Enrollment are paving the way for higher education and saving families thousands of dollars. The program allows high school students to earn college credits by taking college-level classes.

Laila Carroll-Bankston is a Manuel High School senior. Her family told her about the Concurrent Enrollment program early on. She signed up during the second semester of her freshman year to get a head start on college.

“I think I have enough for two years worth of college credits,” Carroll-Bankston said.

CEC Early College senior Crystal Nguyen began taking college classes her freshman year to help chip away at her dream career.

“I want to head into the medical field,” Nguyen said.

The Concurrent Enrollment program is offered at 97% of school districts and 86% of high schools. The program is free for students, and the school district pays for the college credits.

Andy Tucker with the CDE says the program is changing students' trajectory.

“By taking one of these courses and finding success while still in high school, they figure out, 'wow, I can do this,'” Tucker said. "Many students are completing associate’s degrees while still in high school in the traditional four years."

Between 2018 and 2019 the Concurrent Enrollment program saw an annual growth rate of 11% across the state and 34,519 students participated.

Tucker said families saved millions of dollars.

During an interview in December, Susana Cordova, the former Denver Public Schools (DPS) superintendent, was proud of the graduation rates despite the pandemic. She said DPS students earned 54,000 college credits in 2019.

“That saved our families over 8.5 million in college credit,” Cordova said.

Four-year graduation rates increased from 2019 to 2020 by 0.8%, which translated into 981 more graduates, according to the CDE. The number of students of color graduating in a four-year period between 2019 and 2020 increased by 1.6% from the previous year.

Tucker credits the incentives of the enrollment program, in part, for the gain in graduation rates.

Nguyen and Carroll-Bankston admit it’s been tough juggling the extra homework.

“You can’t look at yourself as a high school student, Nguyen said. "You have to look at yourself as a college student."

While it’s been difficult, they both agree it’s worth the experience, savings and said it’s opening more doors as they prepare to graduate and embark on a new endeavor to reach their dream job.

Carroll-Bankston wants to attend the University of Denver and hopes to also attend UCLA. She wants to study musical theater.

She’s encouraging other students to take advantage of the program and the various courses it offers.

“They are going to help prepare you for college" Carroll-Bankston said. "It’s also going to help you decide what career path you want to take.”