Steamboat Springs High school graduates with aspirations of enrolling in select Colorado universities and colleges will find the admission process more difficult.
Beginning next year, the Higher Education Admission Requirements take effect for Colorado's four-year public universities and colleges, meaning incoming freshmen must meet certain admission requirements to be eligible for admission independent of grade point averages and SAT or ACT scores.
The HEAR standards do not apply to private schools or community colleges.
"Preparation is the key to college success, and we are here to offer tools and resources to help you and your student plan that path to college," Gov. Bill Ritter wrote in a letter sent to parents and guardians across the state. "If your student wants to attend a four-year public college or university in Colorado, he or she will need to complete classes in high school that meet the HEAR."
But not every public school district in Colorado will have an easy time implementing the changes. The premise behind the HEAR changes is an increase in requirements for foreign languages and core academic subjects, which likely would require an increase in teachers and certainly an increase in the number of classes offered.
Paula Stephenson, who heads up the Rural Caucus, an organization that advocates on behalf of the state's rural schools, has met with state officials to explain why changes in college admission requirements would be difficult for districts in places such as Hayden and South Routt.
"There are not enough teachers in the state to accommodate every district hiring a foreign language teacher, and if our rural schools were to add another math and/or foreign language course, they would be forced to make cuts in other areas, like vocational education or the arts and humanities - courses that over 60 percent of rural students take - and in programs that the rural districts have had a great deal of success with," Stephenson said.
The concept of taking courses online to prevent districts from hiring teachers has been mentioned, but those also would be an additional cost to districts.
"It will impact everyone," Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said. "But I think it's a little tougher here because we aren't able to have as many of the course offerings and varieties."
In October 2003, the Colorado Department of Higher Education revised the admissions standards policy to include a pre-collegiate course completion requirement.
The revised admission standards were readopted in 2006, and they apply to the Class of 2008 and beyond who seek to apply to colleges such as the University of Colorado or Colorado State University.
The updated admission requirements focus primarily on English, math, science and social sciences. The HEAR changes are being implemented in two phases. The first phase begins next year. The second phase is scheduled to take effect in 2010.
Phase One requires four units in English; three units in math, natural/physical sciences and social sciences; and two units from academic electives such as foreign language and the arts.
Two units in natural/physical sciences must be lab-based, and one of the social sciences units must be U.S. or world history. The state defines a unit as one full year of credit in a specific subject.
The Steamboat Springs School District already requires four credits in language arts and three in science and social sciences, but Steamboat Superintendent Donna Howell said the graduation requirements will have to be revisited because of the foreign language requirements expected to take effect in 2010.
Steamboat has no foreign language requirement.
By 2010, as part of the Phase Two changes, students interested in applying for a four-year public school will have to have two full years of the same foreign language. The other noticeable Phase Two change is an increase from three to four units in math.
Hayden is planning to offer an additional foreign language class next year, Luppes said. "We will have a lot of kids registering for foreign language who may not have thought it as important before."
The Rural Caucus has been outspoken about the HEAR changes, but other groups such as Advocates for a Balanced Education, which is comprised of legislators, board of education members and parents, also have entered the dialogue.
The Colorado Department of Higher Education will hold a special meeting in July to discuss HEAR changes. Stephenson said she and other Rural Caucus members will attend the meeting.
"We are hopeful that by the end of the summer, the Phase Two requirements will be postponed," Stephenson said.
She hasn't personally talked to Ritter, who ran on a platform of making college education available and affordable for every Colorado student regardless of income, but Stephenson has met with state officials to voice her concerns. She said the state director indicated to her that Ritter is in favor of the following compromise: Phase One will be used as the baseline for college entrance with a weighted system applied to anything above those requirements.
For example, a student with a C in calculus would be weighted stronger than one with an A in an easy elective.
High school's priority
Howell counts herself in the minority in rural Colorado because she is in favor of the HEAR changes. She considers Steamboat's high school already "college preparatory."
"A high school diploma is not enough anymore," said Howell, echoing Ritter's words that someone with a college degree typically enjoys $1 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. "I think we need to increase rigor. I understand the practical and logistical challenges, but what do our kids need?"
One lingering question at the root of the debate is the role of high schools. Is the primary responsibility of a high school to ensure a student receives a diploma, or is the primary responsibility to prepare students to enter four-year schools?
"That is the $20 million question," Stephenson said. "And the one that we will be talking about in depth this summer on the Governor's P-20 Council and the Graduation Requirements Guidelines Council. The Rural Caucus has always taken the position that it is the responsibility of our rural school district to prepare each student for whatever it is he or she chooses to do after high school."
Post-graduation decisions in Routt County are as varied as the careers graduates pursue later in life.
Gayle Dudley, the career and college adviser for the Steamboat Springs School District, constantly reminds students that, nowadays, good grades aren't enough for college acceptance, but taking a rigorous load enables a student to have options when applying to schools.
Although Dudley's job is helping students plan and prepare for college or other careers, she wants high school students to understand one thing.
"Getting into college is not the prize," she said. "It's continuing on."