Kerry Hart: Colorado high school students are not disadvantaged

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— I recently returned to Colorado after a six-year hiatus, most of which was spent in Wyoming. During my absence, I basked in the glow of living in a state with a $2 billion surplus while I watched funding for higher education in Colorado take a downward turn. I was actually thankful my children were no longer in high school in Colorado, and that I wouldn't have to deal with the Colorado system of state-funded higher education.

Part of my decision to accept an administrative appointment at Colorado Mountain College last spring was based on the fact that CMC is a district community college and the majority of funding is separate from the state system. But I still wondered if my children would have had the same or similar opportunities as they did during the 1990s.

My daughter, for example, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in four years with a double major in two academically rigorous fields. Her success and the brevity of her years of college study were partially due to a program that was in place between her rural Colorado high school and the state college where I was teaching. During her junior and senior years in high school, she was allowed to take classes at the college at no cost to her, and she completed one full semester of college course work before she graduated high school. Some of her peers who were driven to get a significant jump on their college education had as much as two years of college courses completed by the time they graduated from high school and only had to attend a university for two years before receiving a bachelor's degree.

Since coming to CMC, I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that the opportunities for high school students actually have been enhanced with an excellent partnership between CMC and Colorado high schools. In fact, I have not seen a better opportunity in place in any state. When my daughter attended college classes while still in high school, the course work was separate from her high school curriculum. Now, students can get both college and high school credit at the same time.

This program is called Post Secondary Education Opportunity (PSEO), or dual enrollment. Juniors and seniors in high school can earn college credits at no cost to them. There are some stipulations in place (at CMC for example, the student must be at least 16 years old and a junior or senior in high school, have the approval of the appropriate administrator at their high school, demonstrate the necessary academic skills through testing, attend CMC student orientation, meet with a CMC counselor, submit a CMC application and other required paperwork, adhere to CMC rules and regulations, and receive a 'C' or better to receive both high school and college credit and also to receive reimbursement from the school district). It's an excellent way for high school students to get a head start on college while saving money.

It may look like funding for higher education is low in Colorado, but the PSEO program is a well-kept secret that puts Colorado out in front of other states. It's time to take the PSEO program out of the closet and count it as the excellent benefit that it is. Our children have been given a unique privilege and opportunity for attending high school and college in Colorado.

Hart is dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. Hart's education commentaries appear in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He can be reached at 870-4414 or khart@coloradomtn.edu.

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