Path4Ward: Building Bridges from High School to College and Career

The 2021 passage of the Successful High School Transitions Bill (SB21-106) moved Colorado closer to blurring the lines between high school, postsecondary education, and career by introducing Path4Ward: Early High School Graduate Innovation Program.

In Colorado, about 770 students are eligible to graduate early each year. According to national ACT data, 26% of high school students are academically ready at the end of 11th grade to start college-level coursework. One-third of those students come from low-income families, and 30% of those are racial minorities.

Path4Ward rewards learners who complete high school graduation requirements early by providing those students a scholarship that can be used for postsecondary education or workforce training in what would have been their fourth year of high school. The scholarship can also be leveraged to support the costs associated with these career exploration and postsecondary opportunities, such as textbooks and transportation.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) approved the initial pilot participants for the Path4Ward program and the first cohort of eligible students have graduated and are considering their postsecondary plans. Participating districts, including one consortium of three rural districts, serves a diverse range of learners in their pursuit for postsecondary education and workforce training. Read more about each participant below:

Adams 12 Five Star Schools serves five cities, spanning two counties, across the Denver Metro Area. In 2021, the district was rated a Performance District for the sixth year in a row. They’ve expanded career and technical education learning opportunities, increased graduation rates, and compared to peer districts Adams 12 has the greatest academic growth over the last six years. Innovative programs, like problem based learning (PBL), are integrated into schools’ curricula to better engage and prepare students for the next step after high school. Even with this support, many students don’t pursue postsecondary education. Eliminating this financial barrier to postsecondary education and training opportunities can help change that perspective and provide direct support to students to advance in their college and career goals

The Path4Ward Program aligns with the district’s values to empower its students to achieve their individual career and academic plans. For a significant number of Adams 12 Five Star students obtaining their future life-career goals is a challenge due to the financial constraints of continuing their formal education or training. Many students graduating from Adams 12 schools are also unfamiliar with the process of pursuing higher education aspirations as they will be in the first generation in their family to receive any type of training after high school. The Path4Ward program will reduce the financial constraints and may act as a motivator for students who thought continuing their education was not possible.

  • Number of high school students in service area: 5,500
  • Percentage of students who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL): 60%
  • Current number of early graduates: 5

For Greeley-Evans School District 6, Path4Ward provides a new option for early graduates at each of the six high schools in Weld County’s largest school district. With a district-wide graduation rate higher than the state average, Path4Ward is an additional opportunity for students to receive support and engage in career pathways. Greeley-Evans emphasizes personalized learning experiences for all students, aligning systems to ensure students are meeting grade-level requirements and graduation competencies, and increasing student engagement in career pathways and respond to industry, business, and community needs. The district believes that offering increased financial and counseling support for early graduates is not only an incentive to pursue postsecondary education and training, but also an investment in Greeley-Evans families and communities.

The mission of District 6 is to engage every student in a personalized, well-rounded, and excellent education, preparing students to be career and college ready. Path4Ward aligns with the districts strategic goals and expands opportunities for early graduates to pursue career and college options. The financial resources offered through this program are game-changing and remove a barrier that is often in place for so many of our students. 

  • Number of high school students in service area: 5,542
  • Percentage of students who qualify for FRL: 63%
  • Current number of early graduates: 38

Located in southeast Colorado Springs, three Harrison School District 2 sites, Harrison High School, Sierra High School, and Career Readiness Academy, are joining the Path4Ward to bring more opportunities to students and provide the resources schools need to reach out to and support eligible students. Along with this program, Harrison School District 2 will continue to improve outreach to students and families to ensure they understand the various pathways and financial support for postsecondary education and training available to them. Whether it’s partnering with Pikes Peak Community College to offer free tuition, or providing workforce certifications and training opportunities in conjunction with Pikes Peak Business Education Alliance and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Harrison School District 2 is focused on providing a diverse range of programs to students that fosters academic achievement and personal growth.

Path4Ward affords the district an opportunity to meet the needs of students who are accumulating enough high school credits to graduate ahead of schedule. These students will have the opportunity to receive funds to help defray the cost of tuition and fees to attend college or career training programs, expanding their opportunity and potential beyond high school.

  • Number of high school students in service area: 2,116
  • Percentage of students who qualify for FRL: 66%
  • Current number of early graduates: 21

The Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) authorizes 42 charter schools in 23 cities and towns that serve over 20,000 students. Within CSI, two schools have joined Path4Ward, The Academy of Charter Schools and the Colorado Early Colleges Network, that serve approximately 5,460 students in communities stretching from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. CSI offers its schools the flexibility to choose the educational models and methods that best meet the unique needs of their students and communities. These schools are demographically comparable to the overall state for enrollment of students of color, English Learners, and students with 504 plans. To that end, The Academy of Charter Schools and Colorado Early Colleges Network are excited to join Path4Ward and to present another option for students to explore accelerated connections to a variety of college and career pathways.

Colorado Early Colleges is committed to offering accessible, flexible and individualized learning with a direct path to debt-free college degrees and career credentials to ensure all students are postsecondary ready, regardless what path they choose. Path4ward allows this mission to our early graduates facing financial barriers so they may continue on their educational journey with the support they need to become successful in their chosen career.

The Academy’s mission is to help all students grow into college ready, exemplary citizens by combining academic mastery with personal empowerment to drive lifelong success. The Academy see the Path4Ward program as way to continue expanding the menu of options we have for providing differentiated and individualized pathways to support students’ postsecondary success. Specifically, we hope to more directly market early graduation with a highly supported transition into postsecondary life for a small number of interested students and families.

  • Number of high school students in service area: 5,460
  • Percentage of students who qualify for FRL: 28%
  • Current number of early graduates: 70

The rural school districts of Clear Creek, East Grand, West Grand, and Montezuma-Cortez have cemented their cross-district partnership through participating in the Homegrown Talent Initiative (HTI) together since 2019 and have built significant trust and collaborative relationships across these rural communities. Inequities confronting rural communities are well-known and well-documented, and rural students inherently have less access to diverse education, postsecondary, and career-connected learning opportunities than their Front Range peers. Despite these barriers, the districts in this consortium continue to prioritize what’s best for students and families. The consortium’s work through HTI has helped them define a new vision of what’s possible for rural students as well as budding partnerships with higher education, industry, and community organizations to make it happen.

Path4Ward builds on the career-connected learning and community engagement these districts have been working toward over the last three years. This work is integral to each district’s strategic and students’ education, as they continue to expand postsecondary options for students from low-income backgrounds – the overall goal of the rural consortium’s participation in this pilot. 

  • Number of high school students in service area: 1,400
  • Percentage of students who qualify for FRL: 27%
  • Current number of early graduates: 3

The Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) is the state agency responsible for developing and implementing a five-year pilot. Colorado Succeeds is working in collaboration with CDHE to provide optional technical assistance to pilot districts and learners, and explore the local, state, and national importance of this innovative program.

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Colorado Succeeds