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Patrick Gucwa held a 4.0 grade point average while simultaneously attending Glenwood Springs High School and Colorado Mountain College. He earned his associate degree (at left) weeks before receiving his high school diploma (at right). Photo courtesy Patrick Gucwa

Patrick Gucwa held a 4.0 grade point average while simultaneously attending Glenwood Springs High School and Colorado Mountain College. He earned his associate degree (at left) weeks before receiving his high school diploma (at right). Photo courtesy Patrick Gucwa

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ­– During this year’s springtime graduation season, Patrick Gucwa attended more than one commencement ceremony. The high school senior – one of his class’s seven valedictorians – received his diploma from Glenwood Springs High School.

But several weeks earlier, he’d already participated in another graduation: the commencement exercises at Colorado Mountain College in Spring Valley, where he collected his associate degree.

In some ways, Gucwa is quite unusual. The bilingual (Polish and English) student held a 4.0 GPA at both GSHS and CMC, was awarded six scholarships and is on track to earn his bachelor’s degree by the time he’s 19.

But he’s not alone in getting an affordable head start on college while still in high school. Gucwa is one of thousands of high school students throughout the state and across the country who are taking advantage of concurrent enrollment or dual-credit programs. Colorado’s Concurrent Enrollment Program Act allows students to earn college credits while attending high school.

“CEPA for high school students is an amazing opportunity for students to take college courses while in high school and complete many of the general education requirements prior to starting college,” said Debbie Arnold, a CMC college counselor in Glenwood Springs. “Students benefit from starting college with advanced standing in commonly required courses such as English, math, speech, foreign language, computer science and psychology.”

Cutting cost of college makes huge difference 

In Gucwa’s case, getting two years of college under his belt before even graduating from high school allows him to enter the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business in Boulder this fall well ahead of the typical incoming freshman.

“All [CMC] locations offer concurrent enrollment,” said Arnold, “and guaranteed transfer courses will transfer to all Colorado universities.” Many public and private colleges and universities throughout the country also accept concurrent enrollment credits. Forty-seven states have concurrent enrollment programs for high school students.

In Colorado students must work with their high school guidance counselor to develop a plan. The program is arduous, and it’s not for every student, but it offers financial and educational incentives.

To receive college credit, a student must earn a grade of “C” or better in the courses they take. But the payoff can be huge.

The student’s school district, not the student or the student’s parents, pays the tuition for a certain number of classes a student successfully completes. (In Gucwa’s case, this was two classes per semester.) In contrast, two years at the University of Colorado for an in-state undergraduate student can cost $20-30,000 for tuition and fees alone – and not including room and board.

Concurrent enrollment is catching on. According to the Colorado Department of Education, during the 2012-13 school year, more than 4,200 students participated in these programs throughout the state – an increase of 28 percent over the previous year.

Gucwa said he was first made aware of concurrent enrollment through his brother, who had taken about 15 college credits when he was still in high school. The boys’ mother, Bozena, also encouraged her sons to enroll in high school and college at the same time.

“They both pushed me to try and complete the full 60 credits,” said Gucwa, which is the equivalent of two years of college.

Not always easy, but savings can make it worthwhile

For Gucwa, the financial advantage of getting a head start on college was a strong motivator.

“I wasn’t sure how many scholarships I would end up getting so I figured taking a lot of dual enrollment classes would be like one big scholarship,” he said.

Gucwa said that GSHS was helpful in accommodating his college schedule, allowing him to take high school courses in the morning so that he could attend CMC in the afternoons.

“Dual enrollment is a great way to save a lot of money,” he said. “CMC classes are a really good challenge.” Despite his full schedule of classes, he was still able to enjoy keeping up with the Colorado Avalanche, playing the piano and rollerblading, as well as volunteering at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

Find out more

For more information about concurrent enrollment for students interested in earning college credit while still in high school, go to coloradomtn.edu/academics/dual_credit_cepa.

By Carrie Click.