Moving Pueblo Community College Southwest’s campus to Durango High School in 2018 was supposed to open new doors for students, but it has not yet produced the results that newly hired Superintendent Karen Cheser would like to see.
“The former superintendent’s intent was for DHS students to have access to more courses, community resources and internships, and potentially even get their associate’s degree before graduation,” she said. “Unfortunately, this has not come to fruition yet.”
PCC offers concurrent enrollment courses for high school students, which are classes that earn both high school and college credit. In the past, DHS students had limited access to those courses, because they had to find their own transportation to and from the college’s campus, and the travel time conflicted with the high school’s bell schedule.
PCC partnered with Durango School District 9-R in 2018 to remove the transportation barriers by moving its campus to a four-classroom wing on the west side of DHS. Since the relocation, many students have begun taking their elective classes through PCC. But at a time when the cost of college is at an all-time high, Cheser does not believe the concurrent enrollment program is reaching its potential.
“Concurrent enrollment courses enable students to explore their aptitudes and interests to decide on a major, but they also have the potential to let students graduate from college in fewer years,” she said.
As a part of the move, PCC tailored its course offerings to fit the needs of high school students, said PCC President Patty Erjavec. The school specializes in elementary education and early childhood development, but it also offers degree programs in business, biology, psychology and sociology. High school students have access to up to junior-level college courses.
For students to take advantage of the degree programs offered, they would have to enroll in both general education classes and degree-specific electives at PCC, but Cheser said students are not pursuing general education courses.
“Health care, career classes, early child development, welding, woodworking and other electives are being really promoted, and students are choosing them rather than the general ed classes,” she said.
Jocelyn Feir, a senior at DHS, said many students are unaware that this option is available to them.
“I didn’t even know that PCC offered core classes,” she said. “I’ve taken some of their electives, but I’ve never heard of anyone taking general ed classes over there.”
Cheser said the disconnect lies in the fact that the high school’s strict graduation requirements make it almost impossible to pursue degree programs through PCC. In certain instances, general education courses through PCC only count toward elective credits at DHS, which is why the classes are not marketed to students.
“Students aren’t going to take something that doesn’t count as a high school general ed credit,” she said. “They already have to take four years of DHS math, so there might not be that opportunity to take additional math classes through PCC.”
Currently, for a student to pursue a degree program through PCC, they must already be on an advanced track when they enter high school.
“The board will be looking at the graduation requirements in June, and thinking about how to give more flexibility to students,” she said.
School Board President Kristin Smith declined to comment about the board’s ideas for restructuring the graduation requirements of DHS.
The relocation of PCC had involved remodeling the DHS building to section off the campus, including adding a separate entrance and bathrooms. The district had budgeted $250,000 for the remodel, and PCC had budgeted an additional $200,000.