Concurrent enrollment grows in Colorado


Colorado community colleges experienced a big increase in dual-enrollment programs in 2018-19 from the previous year.

According to a report by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Higher Education, there was a 9.2 percent jump in dual enrollment from the previous year.

Nationwide, growth in dual enrollment appears to be a bright spot for community colleges, as many of them are facing declines in overall enrollment. A National Student Clearinghouse report in May found enrollment of students under age 18 in community colleges in spring 2020 was up 8.7 over the previous year. A more recent enrollment report from that organization cited a 9.6 percent increase in dual enrollment this summer.

A popular program

In Colorado, total dual-enrollment participation represents nearly 20 percent of high school students in grades 9 through 12, according to the report. More than 38 percent of all students take at least one college course during high school, it said.

The biggest increase, nearly 11 percent, was in Colorado’s concurrent enrollment program at two-year colleges. That program, authorized by state law, refers to the simultaneous enrollment in a high school and postsecondary academic or technical education course, including apprenticeships and internships. There is no tuition cost for students.

Colorado community colleges that served the greatest number of high school students in concurrent enrollment in 2018-19 were Arapahoe Community College (6,172) and Front Range Community College (5,865). Red Rocks Community College saw the largest increase (17.6 percent) in concurrent enrollment students from 2018 to 2019.

“These courses save students money, give them a head start on earning college credit, save them on time to degree and improve future wage outcomes, a win-win for our students and our economy,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

A path to college success

Among key findings in the report:

  • Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, the number of Latinx concurrent enrollment students increased by 12.1 percent, and the number of African-American participants increased by 15 percent.
  • In 2018-19, nearly 15,000 students participated in concurrent career and technical education courses, representing 42 percent of all concurrent enrollment students. Arapahoe Community College served the most students (3,600) in CTE concurrent enrollment.
  • The average concurrent enrollment student completed eight credit hours in 2018-19.
  • If all credits earned through concurrent enrollment apply toward a degree, 2018 high school graduates had the potential to save an estimated $50 million in college tuition.
  • Just 4.8 percent of concurrent enrollment students took development education courses in 2018-19, compared to 5.3 percent the previous year.
  • Among concurrent enrollment students, 55 percent are enrolled in a credential-seeking program, such as a certificate or associate degree.
  • Students who attempted one or more concurrent credits in high school were dramatically more likely to matriculate to college within one year after graduation (77 percent) than those who did not (52 percent).
  • College students who had taken concurrent enrollment courses were more likely to persist from fall in their first year of college to the following fall (82 percent) than those who did not.
  • They were also more likely to earn a two-year degree within two years of graduating from high school (13 percent) versus those who didn’t take concurrent courses (5 percent).
  • Concurrent enrollment students had higher average workforce earnings after five years ($15.767) than those who didn’t take college courses in high school ($14,378).
  • Concurrent enrollment improved the odds of college entrance, success and earnings by similar amounts regardless of student income, ethnicity, gender or 9th-grade reading test scores.

A fifth year of high school

Another smaller dual-enrollment program in Colorado, called ASCENT, saw an enrollment increase of just 0.7 percent from 2017-18 to 2018-19, the annual report said. ASCENT (Accelerating Students through Concurrent ENrollmenT Program) allows students to continue to participate in concurrent enrollment in the year directly following the 12th grade.

It’s considered a “fifth year of high school,” with the community college tuition covered by state funds to their public school district. A total of 561 students participated in ASCENT statewide in 2018-19.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.