Innovators in education: Tennessee ­— and CMC |

Innovators in education: Tennessee ­— and CMC

Herb Feinzig
Julie Albrecht |

I was recently invited to attend the New York Times’ Schools for Tomorrow program, where some 250 individuals from the public and private sectors (including government) came together to discuss the future of American higher education. It was an opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and how we could apply those at Colorado Mountain College. I was exposed to new ideas, but I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that CMC has many of the same plans as some of the country’s most forward-thinking educators.

One of the most impressive speakers was Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who spoke about a program his state has implemented called “the Tennessee Promise.” This program gives every high school senior who graduates two tuition-free years of attendance at either a community college or technical/trade school. The program also has community volunteers acting as mentors to students in those first two years. I also heard that students needing any remediation will take that remediation during their senior year in high school, rather than in college. This program has many similarities to programs already under way in Colorado.

For years, Colorado Mountain College and other colleges in the state have been implementing our state’s dual enrollment (or concurrent enrollment) programs, in which high school students can earn college and high school credit simultaneously. Participating high school students take such courses as English Composition, College Algebra and others, giving them a head start on their college education. Because of Colorado’s concurrent enrollment legislation, students can earn these college credits at no cost. In 2012-13, nearly 27,000 high school students in Colorado participated in dual enrollment programs, successfully completing an average of 7.2 credit hours.

Each year, a small number of industrious Colorado high school students earn an associate degree even before they receive their high school diploma. So those students who manage to earn an associate degree while still in high school effectively accomplish the equivalent of the Tennessee Promise: through their hard work they have earned two tuition-free years of college. They leave high school, with zero college debt, ready to start their junior year of college.

Colorado Mountain College has a new initiative, which like the Tennessee Promise addresses the national gap in college readiness, on a very local basis. This year the college is working with its partner high schools, throughout the CMC service area, to ensure that no student who graduates from a local high school will need remediation. This is a tall order. But there is a fresh energy and determination at the college that convinces me that, working with the high schools, they will accomplish this difficult goal.

Due to its unique structure and mission, Colorado Mountain College has the potential to become Colorado’s most innovative and impactful community college. For nearly 50 years the college has provided access to high-quality, affordable education. Although breakthrough innovations are sometimes associated with campuses in large urban areas, I’m convinced that the most meaningful changes in Colorado higher education — those that match some of the nation’s most celebrated innovations — will take place in higher education here in our backyard.

Herb Feinzig is a former member of the CMC Foundation board, a passionate supporter of education, a retiree and a dedicated local volunteer (including working with students of different ages).

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