School districts could do more to ensure students, particularly students of color, have an opportunity to take college classes while still in high school.
That’s the conclusion of a new report from a student advocacy group that looked at disparities in access to what is known as “concurrent enrollment” in Colorado schools.
Programs allowing students to take college courses while they are in high school have consistently expanded to more schools and enrolled more students in Colorado for years. They’ve been seen as a way to both prepare students for college and allow them to save money on tuition once they are fully enrolled, since they pay nothing for the courses they pass and complete now.
The student advocacy group, Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism, gathered data about how many students of each race take concurrent enrollment classes in Aurora and Denver and is releasing a set of recommendations at an event on Friday for how districts might expand access to the courses to more students.
Janiece Mackey, co-founder and executive director of the group, said the data show that there are fewer Latino students taking the college-level courses before high school graduation. However, as an upside, those who do are taking more courses.
Other student groups aren’t seeing that pattern.
“We could have more impact through supporting black students,” Mackey said. “We do best by going to the most marginalized. That’s what these correlations and numbers are showing. There’s more work to be done.”
Annual statewide reports show that in 2015-16, 22 percent of students participating in concurrent enrollment identified as Hispanic and 3 percent identified as black. Both those groups were underrepresented — statewide 33.4 percent of students identified as Hispanic and 4.6 percent as black.
Those state reports also show that Aurora Public Schools is behind other metro area districts in terms of how many students take college courses in high school. Ten percent of all Aurora students take advantage of such programs, while school districts in Englewood, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, and Denver all have higher rates of participation.
In Aurora, the more recent data used in the group’s report from 2016-17 shows white students are accessing concurrent enrollment at a higher percentage with 18 percent of all white students enrolled in the courses, compared to 13 percent of Hispanic students or 11.5 percent of black students.
Mackey said the group created recommendations after conducting interviews with officials that work in, or closely with, concurrent enrollment programs. Among the recommendations: Districts should translate information about the programs into at least the top five languages of their students; they should align courses with career pathways; and they need to find ways to increase access in charter schools and other school models.
This year, state legislators are considering a bill that would change the requirements for how school districts must notify families of concurrent enrollment opportunities. The bill, if passed, calls for districts to provide information about the benefits of taking college courses during high school, including how doing so can reduce a student’s college expenses. The bill would also require districts to clearly lay out deadlines, such as for testing or registration, that students must meet to be able to participate in the courses.
Registration and timelines were identified in the report as some of the barriers students face in trying to take concurrent enrollment.
Mackey said she has provided some input on the bill and supports it, but believes it’s just one step. It would be better, she said, if the state also required the information to be provided in multiple languages, and if it came with money for districts to comply.
“I definitely think it’s a good idea,” Mackey said. “I do think that funding needs to be put with it as well. The state should be addressing and funding this issue and also providing some guidance for the district.”
Mackey’s group is planning to do more research on this topic, including putting together another report that will focus more on students’ experiences accessing these concurrent enrollment programs.
Read the full report below.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.