Opportunity for free college leads to innovation | PostIndependent.com

Opportunity for free college leads to innovation

Debra Crawford
Colorado Mountain College
Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer and chief of staff at Colorado Mountain College, was one of the speakers and workshop leaders at the recent concurrent enrollment conference at CMC’s Morgridge Commons in Glenwood Springs. Approximately 100 leaders from high schools and school districts, plus CMC employees, met to share information and ideas about how high school students can earn free college credits.
Doug Stewart |

Area secondary and higher education officials continue to work on ways to make college-credit classes more readily available to high school students within the Colorado Mountain College district.

“We can be the head of the fish, not the tail, in the state of Colorado,” Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College, said before a recent gathering of high school principals, counselors, school superintendents and CMC employees from throughout the college’s 12,000-square-mile service area.

Hauser was referring to concurrent enrollment, a program through which high school students can earn free college credits, allowing them to save tens of thousands of dollars on a college education. CMC currently partners with 45 high schools to offer courses in college and in career and technical subjects.

“Our goal is that as many students as possible will complete a certificate or degree by high school graduation,” said Matt Gianneschi, CMC chief operating officer and chief of staff. “We are in this together. We can do this together.”

The approximately 100 invited educational leaders recently attended what CMC administrators hope is the college’s first conference on concurrent enrollment, at Morgridge Commons in Glenwood Springs.

Although various forms of concurrent, or dual, enrollment courses have been available thanks to state legislation for more than a decade, participants at the conference heard about newer legislation enacted in 2009. Presenters and workshop participants discussed how the college has followed the revised law to pioneer different approaches tailored to the needs of individual communities, and were able to learn more about how various approaches might be introduced in their own schools.

For example, when K-12 budget cuts severely affected schools in western Garfield County, the college’s Rifle campus introduced a Friday Career Academy, in which high school students came to the campus to take concurrent enrollment courses. The first year the campus offered the program, 65 high school students earned certificates such as nurse aide, culinary, welding and solar installation, allowing them to qualify for better-paying jobs before they had completed a college degree.

One of the sessions at the conference was a case study of Eagle County Schools, presented by Kathryn Regjo, CMC Vail Valley’s vice president and campus dean; Carol Carlson, CMC concurrent enrollment/GED coordinator; and Phil Qualman, assistant superintendent of student support services for Eagle County Schools.

In the 2002-03 academic year the campus started offering concurrent enrollment courses, reaching 181 Eagle County high school students who earned a total of approximately 1,700 college credit hours. This fall semester alone, 658 high school students in the county earned roughly 3,500 credit hours.

The campus now holds its own against entire colleges and universities in the state, placing among the top 10 institutions providing concurrent enrollment courses to students.

“The school district approached the college to learn how to increase rigor for high-achieving students,” recalled Carlson. “It became a team effort.

“What really made a difference was that, together, we have cultivated the mindset of ‘our’ students,” she said. “They are not just CMC students, or high school students. For all of us in the program, they are our students. This creates avenues for communication and collaboration.”

Qualman, of Eagle County Schools, explained the new program they’re calling Early College, which allows students to remain enrolled in high school for a 13th and 14th year. During this time they must complete their high school diploma and earn an associate degree or 60 transferable college credits. In its first year, 32 students are enrolled, and the district is aiming to triple the number next year.

“Early College has been a game-changer for our program,” Qualman said.

Over the years, many high school students have graduated from Colorado Mountain College with an associate degree weeks before they graduate from high school. In the 2015-16 school year, 13 CMC graduates in Eagle County received their associate degree before graduating from high school.