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Western Colorado Community College and partners create an associate degree pathway for high school students

Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) and Colorado Mesa University continue adding to their growing list of firsts. This spring, WCCC and Mesa County Valley School District 51 became the first in western Colorado to be awarded a P-TECH designation by the state of Colorado. P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School.

Central High School, in Grand Junction, became home to the new P-TECH campus where high school students may earn a diploma and college degree at the same time. When high school students choose to enroll in P-TECH, the school district covers the cost of the college credits. This benefit means students whose families might otherwise not be able to afford post-secondary education can walk across their high school stage with an associate degree at no expense.

Among the P-TECH degree options are mechanical engineering technology, machining and welding. Students and their parents can choose a four-, five- or six-year pathway to complete the degree.

Vice President of Community College Affairs Brigitte Sundermann worked closely with local manufacturers, businesses and the school district to compose the P-TECH grant application. She understood that not all kids are interested in earning a four-year degree.

“High school students often clearly understand their skills and because of this awareness have a clear vision of their future,” said Sundermann. “A student may choose to pursue a career in welding where a high degree of skill is required and in this case P-TECH provides the perfect option.”

Representatives from each organization joined together to celebrate at Central High School this past March. The kickoff celebration included students, district leaders, CMU and WCCC faculty, and CMU President Tim Foster. Foster shared with the organizers that Central High School was chosen to participate in P-TECH because the grant is geared toward schools with larger populations of students who are low-income, English Language Learners and/or first-generation, college-bound students.

“At CMU and WCCC we don’t put students in boxes,” said Foster. “That’s just not what higher education and technical training is all about. We are here to provide as many options for students as we can, and help them build the skills and talents necessary to pursue their passions be it engineering, welding or any of the degrees offered at CMU or WCCC.”

The momentum gained by being the first P-TECH school in western Colorado is already paying dividends for the community. Additional districts in the CMU/WCCC service areas are inquiring about adding additional P-TECH schools in the future and Sundermann said, “we’re ready.” •

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Written by David Ludlam