Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about education issues locally and nationwide.
When students from the class of 2013 graduated college, they had an average of $28,400 in student loan debt, according to the ninth annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success. In six states, that average was more than $30,000; and only one, New Mexico, came in below $20,000.
“High student loan debt, risky private loans, and even low debt when paired with low earnings, can hold borrowers back from starting a family, buying a home, saving for retirement, starting a business, or saving for their own children’s education,” according to the report.
Falcon School District 49 chief education officer Peter Hilts said the district recognizes the burden that paying for college places on students and families, and D 49 has addressed the issue through concurrent or dual enrollment. “Kids can start doing college work when they’re ready for it, and all of the coursework while they’re in high school is free,” Hilt said. “Every class that they can take while they’re in high school is one less class they have to save for or take a loan out on. It helps on the student loan and student debt side because they get free tuition, and because they know what kind of classes they want to take when they get into a post high school setting.”
The Colorado State Legislature passed the Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act in May 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s website. The Act defined concurrent enrollment as students “simultaneously enrolled in a local education provider and in an institute of higher education or career and technical courses.” The Act also states that school districts must reimburse concurrent coursework at the in-state resident community college tuition rate. All concurrently enrolled students are classified as Colorado residents.
Mary Perez is the D 49 director of concurrent enrollment. She said every secondary school in the district, including the nontraditional Patriot Learning Center and Falcon Virtual Academy, is working on introducing some form of concurrent enrollment. “It’s a big undertaking,” Perez said. “If they can all afford it, they would like to.” Perez said the district currently has 20 students enrolled in concurrent enrollment classes for the fall semester, and it appears that about 50 will be enrolled for the spring semester. “We don’t have the funding to open up the whole district to concurrent enrollment,” she said.
Diane Forsythe, career and technical education director at Academy School District 20, said the district’s dual enrollment program started in 1997. The district currently has memorandums of understanding with several colleges and universities, she said. Through those MOUs, the district receives a monetary reimbursement from the colleges based on how many credits a student completes, Forsythe said.
“It is financially a benefit for the family, but it gets the kids on a pathway,” Forsythe said. “All the kids are required by law to have an individual career and academic plan, and
we use that tool to determine which pathway they’re going.
“It provides the students with an opportunity to explore and discover their areas of interest in a fiscally responsible manner. It’s good for students to have this opportunity because sometimes they find out that they don’t really like something. It gives them a chance to explore post-secondary options or career options without costing them a lot.”
Aurora Umana-Arko, principal of the Early College High School & Career Pathways in Colorado Springs School District 11, said the district is almost a year and a half into the early college program, which blends high school and college level work into a single academic program. All the teachers at the Early College High School are adjunct professors through Pikes Peak Community College and Adams State College so students can take classes at the high school or at PPCC’s Centennial campus.
The Career Pathways program offers high school courses at an accelerated rate, which allows for college credit, said Dan Hoff, career and technical director for D 11. The difference is that students receive industry certification in their field of study. “Students can go into the industry with a certification and work, and they still have the experience of college rigor to continue,” Hoff said. “If they can’t handle the academic part to continue with college, they have the certification to fall back on.”
Perez said D 49 offers similar “articulated” courses, where students get college credit while taking high school courses. Students graduate with a certification in a field of their choosing. Forsythe said D 20 also has articulated courses that allow students to graduate and immediately enter the workforce.
After attending a conference sponsored by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, Perez said it is clear that concurrent enrollment is the direction education is headed across the country. States are stepping up to help high school teachers get the continuing education credits they need to become adjunct professors, so they can teach college courses to students participating in concurrent enrollment.
“We have made a mistake in the last 30 years in thinking that everybody has to go to a four-year college, and that is just wrong,” Perez said. “Instead, students are navigating the distractions of an adult learning environment, learning to self-advocate and use free resources like writing centers, libraries and tutors — all while they’re in high school. By the time we deliver them back to their parents to go onto whatever degree or program they want to, they will already have those skills. Parents are going to start demanding college courses for their high schools students.”
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Currently serving as the deputy chief of the Fountain Police Department, Bill Elder will take over as the new sheriff of El Paso County in January. He ran unopposed in the November election.
Elder began his career in law enforcement in 1978 as a volunteer for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and transitioned to a paid position a year later. During his 20 years of service there, he spent three years working criminal investigations, five years as the commander of the narcotics unit and also worked many other jobs within the department, he said. Elder left the sheriff’s office in 1998.
In 2010, Elder said he decided to get back into law enforcement and took the job as commander of patrol in Fountain, and later he was promoted to his current position as deputy chief.
Elder said he decided to run for the sheriff’s position because he thought now was the right time to make a change. “I felt like we could go back and do something to create a better, safer community,” he said. “I bring a level of law enforcement experience and a level of commitment to the community that I don’t think has been there for a number of years.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we played into the political side of this (election) as much as we have. I think that there’s so much involved with the job, from managing 800 employees and over 500 volunteers in the most populous county in the state; and it’s unfortunate that there’s been so much political back and forth. The public wants … to know that when I take office, we’re going to bring professionalism back and provide a level of commitment to the community that’s second to none.
There is a “significant” difference between law enforcement in a municipal government and law enforcement in a rural setting, Elder said. “It takes a different mindset to police in a rural community like eastern El Paso County or Black Forest than it does to police in an urban setting like Stratmoor Hills or Widefield,” he said.
Elder said he recognizes that patrolling such a large area can be a challenge. “We try to respond the way we patrol based on the actual need, and it’s hard to guess that,” he said.“If you base it on the types and natures of the calls for service, and schedule accordingly, you almost always miss something.
“In my staff, I’ve already spoken to the commander who will be my patrol commander, and have asked him to make it a priority to examine each district and see where we are light and where we are heavy — and make adjustments.”
Elder said there are ongoing talks about a substation in Falcon because of the area’s continued growth.
On the current issues within the sheriff’s department, Elder cited a lack of leadership. “It absolutely can be fixed; it’s just going to take some time,” he said The department is bringing in KRW Associates LLC, a local company, to do an assessment of the agency and determine what is working and what is not, Elder said. “We won’t have to spend three years studying it; they’ll be doing it, and it’s what they do for a living.”
Elder said that every one of his undersheriffs and deputies have worked at the sheriff’s office for at least the last 12 months. They each have a minimum of 17 years experience, with some touting up to 26 years of experience. So, when Elder is sworn in, he said his department will hit the ground running with a ton of experience.