EAGLE COUNTY — On college tuition checks, the numbers tend to contain more zeroes than your average congressional committee.
As a group, local high school students save almost $1 million a year by taking college classes while still in high school.
They’re called dual enrollment classes and the Eagle County school district ranks eighth among Colorado’s 178 school districts in dual enrollment classes successfully completed, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
Some local students take so many dual enrollment classes through Colorado Mountain College that they graduate high school with an associates degree and transfer into college as juniors. A third of local high school students will take at least one dual enrollment course.
“As we deal with the argument of whether the kids are ready, we can point to about one-third of our kids who already have been taking college classes,” said Mike Gass, the school district’s assistant superintendent. “What’s exciting is looking at the magnitude at which we rank. Being in there with the Auroras of the world is an impressive accomplishment for our students.”
This year saw four local high school graduates walk their second commencement line in May. Tiffany Sheehy, Reagen Gass and Marisol Chacon, of Eagle Valley, and Maria Villarreal, of Battle Mountain, all earned associate’s degrees from Colorado Mountain College along with their high school diplomas.
Keegan Hammond did it a few years back, then headed down to the Colorado School of Mines, where she earned her master’s in engineering. At her Eagle Valley High School graduation, she wore her CMC tassel on her custom-made cowboy boots.
When Haley Beard graduated high school with her associate’s degree, Sheehy spotted the CMC cord and tassel and decided it was more than a fashion statement and that she’d earn one just like it.
Sheehy is already taking nursing classes at the University of Colorado, with the goal of working in a children’s hospital. Nursing can be a five year program at UNC. Sheehy is on track to finish in three and a half.
Nursing students are hammered with hard sciences. Sheehy took biology and chemistry dual enrollment classes, and this summer she’s taking anatomy through Red Rocks Community College. She’ll take advanced anatomy this fall at UNC.
Red Rocks sent her a lab kit that included a cow eye and a sheep brain to dissect. She said the only downside was that her mom wasn’t thrilled about dissection in the house, but hey, it was in the name of science — and she cleaned it all up when she was done.
Many dual enrollment classes cover the basics like English composition and history. Sheehy also took dual enrollment college algebra and trigonometry and chemistry.
Still, her favorite class wasn’t dual enrollment or advance placement — it was a straight anatomy class.
“I loved it and decided I wanted a career that included it,” Sheehy said.
Reagen Gass is headed to Los Angeles and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, site of “Project Runway” season six.
“Every credit I took at CMC transferred,” she said. “The amount I’m saving is ridiculous.”
Chacon starts at Colorado State University in Fort Collins this fall and plans to major in psychology and business. Her hope is to land a marketing job after graduation.
Villarreal is headed to Adams State to study criminology.
How it works
High school students earn credit for college or vocational school in classes that also count as credit toward a high school diploma.
The school district picks up the tab for dual enrollment college classes. The school district requires students to earn better than a C-. If they don’t, their parents are billed for the class.
Some kids can’t get the dual enrollment classes in a regular high school rotation, so they’ll take classes in the summer. Some student take 12 credit hours in the summer. CMC offers summer classes at Eagle Valley High School. The school district doesn’t pay for summer classes.
“When you look back over the last summer and put a dollar sign on it, the money they can save on college can be more than they’d make working a summer job,” said Mike Gass, Reagen’s dad.
Students go through testing to make sure they can do college work, then CMC has orientation for students and parents, to make sure everyone is on the same page, said Peggy Curry, who was running CMC’s Edwards campus when dual enrollment began locally.
They’re college classes and high school students are assessed the same as an on-campus student would be, Curry said.
Gary Redo started the school district’s dual enrollment by partnering with Colorado Mountain College.
“Some colleges have no idea what to do with this,” Mike Gass said. “They ask, ‘What do you mean you’re going to enter as a sophomore or junior?’”
Ascent is a fifth-year option that’s part of the dual enrollment program. If a kid has taken enough classes, the school district can escrow their diploma and the money will be spent on their first year of college at CMC.
The Ascent program also includes some of the vocational programming, EMT and auto shop, Gass said.
“That allows a kid to stay on the college path for at least another year,” Gass said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.