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More Hispanic students are graduating from Colorado high schools. What's adding to that success?

East High School, located in the City Park neighborhood of Denver, is a part of the Denver Public Schools system.
Ken Lund
CC BY-SA 2.0
East High School, located in the City Park neighborhood of Denver, is a part of the Denver Public Schools system.

More and more Hispanic students are graduating from Colorado high schools. After a decade of steady progress, dropout rates have decreased, and so have the number of students needing remedial classes.

KUNC’s Samantha Coetzee spoke with Yesenia Robles, a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, about what’s contributing to student success.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Samantha Coetzee: Colorado’s Hispanic graduation rate rose nearly 20 percentage points, which is higher than any other demographic. Can you talk about some of the state and federal policies that boosted that number?

Yesenia Robles: We looked at things happening around 2010 or before, and we asked people what they thought had happened. So one of the things that people pointed to was that the governor at the time had this push to cut dropout rates in half. And he kind of kicked off a bunch of other education initiatives that kind of started a lot of consulting groups that wanted to help. And then a couple of years later, the state created the accountability system where they rate schools every year. It’s a possibly biased, possibly controversial system. A lot of schools and districts say no. But at the time, it was the first time that schools were going to be graded on how effective they were, including at graduating students. So that might have, you know, lit a fire under schools to start paying more attention to things.

Coetzee: Can you talk about the increase in concurrent enrollment? Why are more Hispanic high school students taking college classes? 

Robles: So concurrent enrollment is something everyone is taking more advantage of. And actually, Hispanic students are less likely than white students to participate in concurrent enrollment. They've all increased, though. So years ago, also, the state changed how those programs were offered and turned it into what we now know as concurrent enrollment. Before the state changed it, there were limits and barriers. So students might have had to wait until they took, for example, all the math classes that their high school offered before they tried to enroll in a college level math class. Or they had to have junior-level credits for some of the programs.

Now, concurrent enrollment is available to more students because you don't have to meet requirements like that. You can start earlier in your high school career and you don't have to prove that your high school doesn't offer an equivalent class. So there's more opportunities. Students we've talked to and graduates we talked to who have taken concurrent enrollment really, really love the opportunity, both because it helps them feel more prepared for college and because they've actually done college. But also there are free classes that they take, so they feel like they've got a head start on their way to college.

Coetzee: And briefly, can you talk about some of the social factors that have pushed more students to success?

Robles: We looked at pregnancy rates for teenagers, and those have dropped a lot in the last 10 years in Colorado. We also know that families have made or did make between 2010 and 2020 a lot of economic gains. So in some cases, teenagers might have been less pressured to work to help their families. Unfortunately, the pandemic has kind of taken back a lot of those economic gains. Hispanic families were very impacted during the pandemic with job losses and things like that. And unfortunately, we hear a lot that school districts are struggling to get kids back in schools. And one of the reasons is they're working or providing childcare for other family members who've had to go back to work. So that was possible help during 2010 through 2020. And now we're seeing that's one area where things might have taken a step backward.

As the host of Morning Edition at KUNC, I have the privilege of delivering you the news in two ways — from behind the mic and behind the scenes. In addition to hosting Morning Edition, I’ll report on pressing news of the day and arts and culture on the Front Range.