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Knowledge is power: Understanding how to access college early and save money

I am still thankful for accidentally being scheduled into an English Composition concurrent enrollment class as a junior in high school. Being a first generation college student and attending a high school where my class size was over 600 students, I did not receive the guidance about the significance concurrent enrollment classes could have for my future education. I just happened to sign up and found out a week into the class that I could earn both high school and college credit.

Jessica Morrison

This opened so many doors for me, including by the end of my high school career I had earned a full semester of college credits I was able to transfer to my college, shaving off a semester of course work and money for my four-year degree.

I took a semester of college classes in high school, did not pay for it and was able to finish college in 3½ years instead of four. The power of having this knowledge is truly life changing.

I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even understand at first how concurrent courses worked in high school. When people talked about college and how expensive it was, I heard the term tuition and created the story in my head that it was a fixed amount you paid for college. I had no understanding that college tuition was calculated by a per-credit basis and that each class earned a certain amount of credits and that is how much you owe each semester. Again, first-generation college student here.

On the Net

Learn more about the Collaborative by visiting www.swcoedcollaborative.org.

As think about the amount of information I did not know while pursuing my education, I reflect on what my life would have looked like if I had this knowledge and resources along the way. Certainly, the path would have been easier for me and would have most definitely have cost less.

This personal story is what drives me to support other students and families in our region to receive the resources I did not receive when I was a student. We know with information comes power, and the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative wants to ensure that all families have access to this knowledge to make informed decisions that can have a large impact on educational attainment and ease financial burden.

Here is a basic understanding of what concurrent enrollment means to a family. I also want to provide a baseline of information to ask additional questions in your schools. The Collaborative hopes this information will start you on the exploration of how to engage in accessing college early and save money in the process.

What is concurrent enrollment/dual enrollment?

An opportunity for students to take a class that earns both high school and college credit. We have two great higher education institutions (Fort Lewis College and Pueblo Community College) that offer these classes.

The difference between the terms concurrent enrollment and dual enrollment depends on whether the class is through a four-year or two-year college. So we are not too deep in the weeds, these different terms all accomplish at the end the same thing – students accessing free classes for college credit while they are in high school.

What is the structure?

Concurrent enrollment classes can happen in a variety of ways. Some concurrent enrollment courses are offered in your student’s high school and are taught by your student’s teacher who has been certified to teach the college-level curriculum. Other classes are taught at the local college and your student goes to the class in-person or virtually (depending on the set up) and engages with a college professor and other college students. Concurrent classes can occur in a science class, but also in a building trades career and technical class.

What is the cost?

Many of the concurrent enrollment classes are covered by your local high school. Yes, you read that correctly! Your high school covers concurrent enrollment classes, however, the devil is in the details so make sure to look into your school’s concurrent enrollment policies. Each school outlines what courses they cover, how many courses a student can take and why. This information usually can be found in your school’s course catalog.

Even if there is a cost, there are ways to support lowering it. Colorado has a stipend program called the College Opportunity Fund, which pays a fixed dollar amount per credit hour for students to take college-level courses in the state.

Choose carefully and with a plan

Before running to your counselor and loading up on random concurrent enrollment classes, make sure to have a plan.

If you are thinking about a four-year college degree, check into general elective classes. These are classes that will be required for you to take regardless of what four-year college you attend, like English Composition I, for example.

If you know more of a specific career pathway you are interested in, even better! Our local colleges do a great job of outlining classes you can take while in high school that will correlate to a specific technical certification or major/career path.

What are guaranteed transfer credits?

Let’s say your current vision is after high school you want to attend Colorado State University. You can take concurrent enrollment classes at either FLC or PCC, and as long as the class is listed as a guaranteed transfer, those course credits will transfer to any public college/university in Colorado. This guarantee is a great way to knock out general elective classes while in high school.

This guaranteed transfer of credits can save you money as well because not all colleges have the same cost per credit hour. Therefore, if you take guaranteed transfer classes at your local college and you transfer to another college in Colorado that charges more per credit hour, you will have paid for the same class at a reduced price.

Also this guarantee is not just with general elective classes for a four-year degree, you could earn credits toward career and technician certification programs and two-year degrees, as well.

How do you learn more and access these options?

A good place to start is to check in with your high school counselor and review your school’s course catalog for its policies and requirements for concurrent enrollment

If you are interested in learning more through FLC, contact dual enrollment specialist Teresa Castanon Fry at 247-6731 or concurrent@fortlewis.edu.

For more about PCC, contact Student Services Director Lisa Molina at 564-6201 or lisa.molina@pueblocc.edu.

Jessica Morrison is executive director for the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative.