Colorado students continue to face difficult decisions about their futures, specifically how to make their education relevant while earning the postsecondary credentials necessary to succeed in the Colorado workforce. This reality has been true for several years, but these issues (postsecondary affordability, credential attainment and degree completion) are exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Yet, the skills and knowledge employers are looking for remain the same while finding and retaining talent has become more difficult.
Expanding and investing in concurrent enrollment is a bridge that decreases costs, increases postsecondary credential attainment, and continues to develop a more robust talent pipeline with greater earning potential.
According to a 2020 University of Denver report, students who participate in concurrent enrollment are more likely to complete their 2- and 4-year degrees on time or early than those who do not. Additionally, those who participate in concurrent enrollment have higher workforce earnings ($15,700 vs. $14,300) than those who do not.
Even with the promising results from concurrent enrollment, a lag in student participation persists. The Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) reported in 2020 that 40 percent of all Colorado high school graduates took some sort of dual enrollment (of those 41 percent were white, 38 percent Black, 36 percent Latino, and 33 percent American Indian or Alaska Native). While these numbers show significant increases in enrollment across race/ethnic groups, gaps remain and opportunities are missed, which makes the state’s goal of 66 percent of college enrollers completing their degree a promise with a dim reality.
However, if concurrent enrollment is expanded and refined to provide more students with access to and successfully complete concurrent enrollment options, the reality grows brighter.
To do so, Colorado should pursue strategies and adaptations that blur the lines between high school, postsecondary attainment, and students’ future careers. Specifically, three key strategies aligned with state priorities to reduce costs and time associated with postsecondary attainment and the workforces’ need for more talent should be considered:
- Focus on gateway courses, specifically math and English that transfer and apply to nearly all postsecondary options and are transferrable across institutions. Students who complete their required math and English courses early in their postsecondary careers are more likely to succeed in their degree or credential pathway.
- Intentionally create pathways with postsecondary partners that align with postsecondary graduation requirements and career pathways. School districts are encouraged to work closely with institutions of higher education to ensure expectations are aligned and credit transfers to the maximum extent.
- Connect students and families through the student Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) process with information that clearly identifies what students want to do after high school to determine concurrent enrollment options. Additional information about career and technical education (CTE) and academic pathways and wage outcomes and demand for different degrees and credentials should be shared throughout this process. Students should also be connected to and engage with college and career navigation tools and resources (e.g. My Colorado Journey).
The need is clear: students want more affordable postsecondary education options that connect with their future careers; business needs a workforce with both skills and credentials that match in-demand jobs. By investing in an expansion and more strategically aligned concurrent enrollment program, Colorado can build a stronger talent pipeline founded on postsecondary affordability and early entry to courses that are aligned to industry credentials and in-demand jobs.
In part two of our concurrent enrollment series, we’ll discuss how to incorporate work-based learning and avoid common avoid pitfalls.