Last year more than four of every 10 students participating in higher education in the U.S. were enrolled in community colleges. The 15 institutions of the Colorado State Community College System enrolled 162,000, the largest number for any higher education system in the state. About a third attended to complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree before transferring to a four-year institution. Another third attended to complete degree programs in such career fields as nursing, dental hygiene, commercial art, fire protection, and culinary arts. Perhaps fifteen percent of those in these career programs, mostly in the high demand health fields, were reverse transfers from four-year colleges and universities, many holding baccalaureate degrees. The remaining third either needed developmental work to remedy deficiencies in academic preparation or were taking individual courses for personal development or to qualify for advancement in jobs they already held.
Community colleges are now the favored national strategy for extending educational opportunity because they are relatively low cost both in terms of taxpayer’s dollars and student costs. Last year on average, students at Colorado community colleges paid less than half of the tuition and fees paid by their counterparts at public four-year Colorado institutions. Many students complete the first two years of their bachelor’s degree at a community college as a cost-saving strategy.
Not only are communities without a higher education institution disadvantaged in providing educational opportunities, they also are less attractive for economic development. During this past year, Pagosa Springs has taken an important step toward becoming one of the “haves,” rather than the “have nots,” with respect to higher education opportunities.
Archuleta County has been part of the Pueblo Community College service area for several years. However, PCC offered only occasional courses, when seven or more students signed up. Last June, the Board of Directors of the Archuleta County Education Center signed an agreement with Pueblo Community College and its campuses in Durango and Mancos to have the ACEC recognized as an additional location for PCC. Designation as an additional location means that students can earn associate degrees entirely in Pagosa Springs. The ACEC also provides admissions, placement testing and financial aid counseling to help students choose courses wisely and to qualify for federal and state grants and loans. Transfer courses taken at the ACEC are accepted with full credit by any public institution in Colorado under state law.
The ACEC also provides an alternative high school in collaboration with the Archuleta County School District 50 Jt. operated by PCC. Students in this program are eligible to participate in high school sports and activities and graduate with a diploma from the Pagosa Springs High School. Advanced students are encouraged to participate in community college courses while finishing their high school diploma. Our agreement with PCC provides for cost sharing for facilities, faculty, operating expenses and staff support.
Community college courses use technology to overcome the cost barriers of small student numbers. Interactive video brings classes to the Education Center from Durango, Pueblo or Canon City. Students hear and see everything that goes on in the originating classroom and are able to ask questions and otherwise actively participate. Interactive video offerings this semester include History, Guidance Strategies and Early Childhood Education. Instructors physically present in an ACEC classroom also teach such classes as math and English each semester.
The large number of instructor monitored, on-line courses available both through PCC and the Colorado State Community College System supplement interactive video and in-person instruction. Finally, there are hybrid courses that combine one or more of the three previous formats with trips to Durango for labs not available here. Students are able to take a full-load by combining options. During this spring semester, there are 61 students with county zip codes in college courses using one of these delivery options. Of these, 21 are taking online courses, 32 are attending some combination of classes in Durango and Pagosa Springs and 17 are taking at least one class in person at the ACEC. All of these numbers are increasing over the first semester for these new opportunities.
The program described above would not have been possible without support last year from the Pagosa Springs Town Council and other area contributors. The 10th annual ACEC luncheon is this year’s public fund-raiser to help continue the availability of these programs. Everyone is invited to attend the luncheon, which will be held on Leap Day, Wednesday, Feb. 29, starting at 11:45 a.m. at the Pagosa Lodge on U.S. 160. Tickets are available for a $50 donation. Have friends or associates? Buy tickets for a table. Tickets can be purchased at the Education Center (4th and Lewis streets) and at the Chamber of Commerce (402 San Juan St.).
For more information, call the Education Center at 264 2835.