DOUBLE VISION: Dual high-school/college programs boost Aurora, statewide grad rates

Edwin is a lover of all things computer-related. By summer, he’ll have graduated from an Aurora high school and won an associate degree from a local community college – all in just five years.

For the first time, he and other students in a special high school-college hybrid program called ASCENT were counted in annual graduation rate statistics released by the state Department of Education, helping a historic spike in Aurora Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate.

The percentage of APS students graduating in four years rose almost 9 percent last year to 77 percent, thanks to a 6 percent boost from a new law incorporating ASCENT students who are awarded a free year of community college after their fourth year of high school into the four-year rate.  Previously, those students were counted in the five-year graduation rate.

No district in Colorado had more to gain from the law change than APS, which has placed more students than any other district into the statewide program.

Until this year, however, ASCENT students were relegated to a kind of statistical limbo by the state graduation rate counting: even though those students had completed their final high school courses, they were considered to be fifth-year students.

Those students would walk with their class at high school graduation, but not physically receive their diploma until the end of their additional ASCENT year.

That’s the case for Edwin. He said he will receive both his diploma and his degree when he finishes his ASCENT year this spring.

The counting drove down the graduation rate for some districts — especially APS.

To remedy the problem, state Rep. Mike Weissman. D-Aurora, introduced legislation last year to include ASCENT students in the four-year graduation rate count.

“APS, which uses a lot of ASCENT, was penalized,” he said of the problem. “And it struck me as unfair.”

Weissman’s bill passed unanimously, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it. The change went into effect this year, accounting for the 6.4 percent boost in the four-year graduation rate in APS. Pace said both Weissman and Munn should be commended for throwing support and limited resources behind the popular program.

DOUBLE VISION: Dual high-school/college programs boost Aurora, statewide grad rates