The way we prepare students for the future is beginning to change because our economy is undergoing a makeover. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce published a report stating that by 2020, 65 percent of our economy’s jobs will require post-secondary education or training beyond high school. That means that students without these post-secondary milestones will only be applicable for 35 percent of jobs. Because of this, it is important to create programs that encourage students to pursue post-secondary education.

However, a four-year degree may not be the right path for every student.

At Pikes Peak Early College (PPEC), we don’t exclusively encourage our students to pursue a four-year college degree. Because of this, we are able to attract different types of students from various backgrounds.

Our Blended School Model

PPEC is a multi-district, early college high school, meaning students from all across Colorado can enroll. Upon enrollment, every student meets one-on-one with our college and career counselor to discuss his or her interests and plans for the future, as well as to take a placement test to determine his or her current level of college and career readiness.

The counselor then uses this information to create a personalized “degree plan” outlining which courses the student should take at PPEC. This includes high school courses needed to meet graduation requirements and to increase his or her college and career readiness skills, elective courses to match the student’s interests and future goals, and college courses or industry certification programs the student should pursue during his or her time at PPEC to reach future goals.

Most students complete their high school courses and electives online so students only physically attend school three days a week. Days in school consist of teachers leading project-based learning to complement what students are learning online, as well as helping students master the concepts they are learning in the online courses. Students spend the other two days of the week completing online courses at home, participating in internships or shadowing opportunities, or attending classes on community college campuses.

(Next page: Support for all students at PPEC; different goals)

Added Support for All Students

PPEC’s blended learning model attracts various types of learners, from high-achieving or elite students to students who aren’t as high-achieving, but are highly driven; first-generation college students; and students from populations that are under-represented in post-secondary institutions.

Many of these students also chose PPEC for its additional support systems:

Counseling Services, Early: As mentioned previously, every student gets a personalized degree plan after meeting with the college and career readiness counselor. Students continue to meet with the counselor throughout their time at PPEC to ensure they are on track with their plan and they are still enjoying their coursework, and thus still want to pursue their post-secondary goals. Having this support while in high school is an added bonus for students. How often do you hear of college students changing majors so far into their college career they take longer than four years to complete their degree? This is a costly mistake PPEC students can avoid because they have the opportunity to change their path while still in high school. The counselor also helps students and their families navigate complicated processes such as financial aid or campus housing, which is extremely helpful for first-generation college students.

Flexible Enrollment Plans: PPEC’s early college status allows freshmen to choose from a four-, five-, or six-year degree plan. Although it is possible, achieving an associate’s degree or industry certification while completing the high school graduation requirements – the four-year degree plan – may be too difficult for some students depending on his or her level of college and career readiness skills upon enrollment. Therefore, the five- and six-year degree plans allow students to defer their high school diploma and take additional time to progress toward their goals – all while still receiving personalized counseling services.  Additionally, students may have the option to enroll in a fully virtual PPEC program starting September 2017.

Monetary Support: PPEC takes the funding it would use for athletics or other major expenses and invests it back into students’ post-secondary education. PPEC is able to pay $160 for each credit hour students pursue at local community colleges and is willing to pay for up to 15 credit hours per semester. Students are completing their high school graduation requirements and earning college credit or working towards an industry recognized certification – and graduating with zero student loan debt, which takes a huge financial burden off of the student and his or her family. Students can then choose to pursue a career or transfer their credits to a four-year university in Colorado to earn a bachelor’s degree – either way, they will be ahead of their peers.

Support Different Goals

Prior to enrolling at PPEC, graduating with a high school diploma may have been some of our students’ highest hopes. PPEC shows students they can have bigger dreams for their futures. For some students, this means they can earn a bachelor’s degree. For others, the goal is an associate’s degree or a certification. Whichever route students choose, they know they will have the support of PPEC staff throughout the process, and that they will be prepared to contribute to our economy.

About the Author:

Dave Knoche, the Executive Principal of Pikes Peak Early College in Peyton, Colorado, is a strong believer in the enormous benefits of flexible, relevant and individualized educational models that meet the needs of non-traditional learners. Students at Pikes Peak Early College use online course from Fuel Education.


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