In the heart of Denver’s Whittier neighborhood, Manual High School stands as one of the area’s oldest schools, and one of the first to educate women and African Americans. Anchored by its rich history and values of innovation, building community, and celebrating culture, Manual’s student population included 55.9% Hispanic, 33.8% Black, 6.4% American Indian or Alaskan, Asian, or multiple races, and 4% white students in the 2019-20 academic year. For all Manual students, it’s never too early to start mapping out a pathway to college. For students who want to earn college credit while in high school, Manual’s growing concurrent enrollment program offers a clear path to college while helping to reduce tuition costs and ease the transition.
Concurrent Enrollment as an Equalizer
At Manual High School, approximately 60% of 11th–12th graders completed concurrent enrollment courses during the 2019-20 academic year. The growth and systematizing of the concurrent enrollment program, says Whitney Weathers, M.Ed., assistant principal of Early College at Manual High School, has contributed to the strong college-going culture at Manual.
“Concurrent enrollment is a powerful tool for diversifying and strengthening our workforce because people of color offer lenses, both to their postsecondary institutions and to their workplaces that are otherwise missing in our grossly patriarchal (white, male-dominant, heteronormative) society,” explains Weathers. “Concurrent enrollment courses serve as equalizers in that students are able to take courses that would otherwise cost them, with teachers who understand that students’ diverse perspectives are assets and not deficits thus creating a through-line for students to ease into postsecondary learning and opportunities. After graduating, students have the skills and the life-experiences which make them powerful assets to any company that is so lucky to have them.”
Building Bridges from High School to College
Concurrent enrollment programs also help students build a bridge between their high school experience and their future in college. For all students—but especially students who are the first in their family to attend college—creating overlap between these two worlds makes the transition easier and fosters student success. According to the Colorado Department of Education, 78% of all concurrently enrolled students enroll in college in the fall immediately following graduation. Further, in their first year of college, compared to their peers who don’t participate, these students earn higher GPA’s and accumulate more credits.
Beginning the transition to college in a safe environment, says Assistant Principal Weathers, empowers students to visualize themselves on new pathways they might not have considered before; or, perhaps they considered themselves as college students, but had no idea what that actually meant. Concurrent enrollment helps put thought to action and put action to outcome.
“There is a very specific set of rules—lexicons, norms, and ways, if you will—associated with college,” shares Weathers. “Concurrent enrollment introduces students to the rules in a safe environment thus empowering students of color to participate in the same spaces as the aforementioned patriarchal group. Students learn that they are indisputably important in and needed in society because they learn and see that they belong in postsecondary spaces.”
Working Together to Support Our Students
In close partnership with Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF), Assistant Principal Weathers, with her concurrent enrollment team, has led the growth of the program at Manual High School. This growth has been marked by bi-weekly collaborative conversations with postsecondary stakeholders and increasing the amount of faculty of color teaching on Manual’s campus. Additionally, Weathers and her team have introduced soft skills courses to prepare students for college success, including lessons on writing a professional email and creating a work calendar to complete assignments.
DSF College Advisor Diana Madriz supports Manual High School seniors through the college-going process and is based in the DSF Future Center, located inside the high school. Leveraging our shared mission to support students on their college journeys, Assistant Principal Weathers and Ms. Madriz work closely to continue evaluating the concurrent enrollment program and its impact on student success.
“What makes Manual’s partnership with DSF invaluable is that there is a clear coalition dedicated to doing the work of helping students envision themselves in a postsecondary way,” explains Weathers. “I think that the DSF Future Center is a sacred space for our students. They know that stepping through the doors of that space means they are stepping into planning for their future. I have seen that space shift from a place to ‘hang out’ to a place where postsecondary support abounds.”
More Pathways, Brighter Futures
The overarching goal of growing the concurrent enrollment program at Manual, says Weathers, is to “continue to foster conversations with students to combat stereotypes and increase confidence in college pathways.” As participation in concurrent enrollment courses continues to increase for juniors and seniors, more students are graduating, or are poised to graduate, with at least 12 college credits or an industry certification. This means more students are setting their sights on college as an attainable path to success—and a bright future—for themselves, their families, and their communities.