For some, the spark might ignite at the Anschutz Medical Campus, where high school students experiment with concocting aspirin – or bacon-flavored lip balm. For others, the moment might arise during a summer residence class at the University of Colorado Boulder, exploring math and science, theater and writing.
The experiences leading to major life decisions may be different, but the results are similarly impressive across the University of Colorado system: Some 96 percent of the middle school and high school students who participate in the CU Pre-Collegiate Development Program go on to attend college.
“We joke that the Pre-Collegiate Program is CU’s best-kept secret,” said Christopher Pacheco, director of the Office for Pre-College Outreach and Engagement at CU-Boulder.
To help make it less of a secret, Pacheco and directors of the program at the four CU campuses spoke June 8 at an event presented at the University of Colorado Denver by the CU Advocates program and the Office of the President. About 12 students who have taken part in the program across the system also attended the presentation, which included remarks from state Sen. Pat Steadman.
The Pre-Collegiate Program began on the Boulder campus in 1983, then expanded systemwide in 1988. After a first year that saw 65 students from six schools take part, the program now serves 2,000 students from 60 schools across the state. Funding from campuses, the Office of the President and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education supports the program, which is provided free of cost to eligible students.
The program’s initial focus on boosting economically disadvantaged students eventually widened to help potential first-generation college students, those whose parents did not graduate with a four-year degree. GPA standards apply, too.
The college preparatory elements include year-round Saturday academies for groups of students, tutoring, classes in how to apply to institutions and request financial aid, workshops in study skills and career exploration and more. Parents participate, too, sharing in the work to motivate and prepare students for a college education.
Pacheco said out of the 96 percent of participants who go on to college, 40 percent to 50 percent go on to attend the CU campus hosting them; 60 percent attend a CU campus.
Steadman praised the program directors and students, and encouraged the attending CU Advocates to sing the praises of the Pre-Collegiate Development Program and other CU success stories.
“Don’t ever overlook an opportunity to speak up on behalf of the university,” Steadman said, suggesting the audience make their voices heard by lawmakers, colleagues, friends and family. “Let them know higher education is a priority. Let them know we’ve got some real challenges as a state. Please accept that assignment.”
Steadman said he hopes next year is when voters might be asked to decide on a remedy to the funding challenge for higher education.
“We live in a very challenging environment right now,” Steadman said. “As a state, we are not making proper investments in our future.”