Rethinking college, career readiness
Dave Knoche
November 16, 2016

Today’s workforce is changing, so shouldn’t the way we prepare our students for it change, too? Pikes Peak Early College is a multi-district early college high school that uses a blended learning model. Students from all across Colorado can enroll and have four to six years to earn a high-school diploma and one of the following:

  • a two-year associate’s degree
  • 60 credit hours to transfer to a four-year college
  • professional certification

How does it work?

When a student first enrolls at PPEC, he or she meets one-on-one with our college and career counselor. During these individual meetings, the counselor asks students about their interests and plans for the future and administers a placement test to determine their current level of college and career readiness. Using all of this information, the counselor develops a personalized “degree plan.” This degree plan outlines which high-school classes they need to take to increase their college and career readiness skills, which electives they should take based on their interests and future goals -- all of which are taken online -- and what college courses or certification programs they should pursue during their time at PPEC to reach their future goals.

Because most of their high-school coursework is completed online, students only attend a physical school three days a week. These days consist of teachers leading project-based learning activities to complement what students are learning online or helping them master the online content. The remaining two days are open for students to do their coursework at home, participate in internships or shadowing opportunities, or attend classes on college campuses.

For example, a student (let’s call her Sarah) enrolls at PPEC as a freshman. She’s interested in web design and coding and wants to earn an associate’s degree of Applied Science for Multi-media Graphic Design at Pikes Peak Community College by the time she graduates from PPEC. After meeting with the counselor and taking the placement tests, the counselor decides Sarah needs to take a few high-school English and math classes before she can pursue courses at the college level. Sarah’s degree plan includes these high-school English and math courses, other core classes, and web design and coding electives -- all of which she can take online at home or on campus. If she needs additional help with her online courses, she can work with her on-site teachers in addition to completing project-based learning activities with her classmates. Once Sarah begins to demonstrate more college and career readiness, she can start taking classes at Pikes Peak Community College during the two days a week she doesn’t attend PPEC. Once she earns her high-school diploma and her associate’s degree from Pikes Peak Community College, she can transfer her credits to a four-year university to continue her education, or she can enter the workforce.

While working through their degree plans, students continuously meet with their counselors to make sure they are on track or to change their plan if needed. If a student changes her mind about future plans or if she is falling behind in classes, the counselor can make sure the student gets on a path that works for her and that credits earned will transfer to the program of her choice.

On top of this school model, we are able to take the funding we would use for athletics or other major expenses and invest it back into our students’ postsecondary education. We are able to pay $160 for each credit hour that our students pursue at local community colleges, and we are willing to pay for up to 15 credit hours per semester. So in the example above, Sarah would be able to complete her high-school diploma requirements and her associate’s degree requirements at the same time -- at no cost to her.

How is this making a difference?

Our blended, early college school model with personalized counseling services provides a unique high school experience for our students. So many college students change their major mid-way, which can mean more money and time spent on college. At PPEC, students are able to explore their options and make those changes while in high school, thus limiting financial burden and time lost, which can be significant for the population we serve.

In addition to the ability for PPEC to actually pay for students’ colleges courses, we find the wrap-around services we offer -- personalized counseling, internship and shadowing opportunities, scholarship and other college enrollment information, etc. -- are particularly helpful for first-generation college students or those students who are part of certain populations that are under-represented in postsecondary institutions. For many of our students, a college degree may have been something they thought was out of the realm of possibility. PPEC helps them see that earning a two- or four-year college degree is very possible, and with a little hard work, something they can complete while in high school.

Dave Knoche is the executive principal of Pikes Peak Early College in Peyton, Colo.. Pikes Peak Early College uses online course content from Fuel Education.