Pre-Collegiate Program prepares students for brighter futures

Pre-Collegiate Health Pathway students show off the UCCS senior banner in preparation for the annual systemwide Olympiad.

Many middle and high school students aspire to go to college. But when asked if they feel ready to tackle college life, less than half of America’s high school students say yes.

Fortunately for students in the Pikes Peak region, UCCS’ Pre-Collegiate Development Program can get them there.

UCCS’ Pre-Collegiate Support and Success Center is one of three programs in the University of Colorado system that prepares middle school and high school students for the rigors of college life. With a focus on first-generation and military-affiliated students and students in the academic middle, the program helps bridge the gap between high school and college by combining academic advising, financial aid guidance, interpersonal skill development and career exploration.

“Our mission is to empower students to go beyond and break the cycle of graduating from high school and then going straight into the workforce,” said interim executive director Anthony Trujillo. “The Pre-Collegiate Program gives families and students the tools they need to continue their education and continue to do better for themselves.”

Students are able to take dually enrolled classes at UCCS to earn college credit.

Nearly 500 middle and high school students are currently enrolled in the program, many of whom are recruited before the ninth grade and persist with the program until graduation. In addition to visiting college campuses around the state and earning college credit through dual enrollment, students choose to explore one of five career pathways: business, education and human services, engineering and technology, health and humanities and arts.

“We set the pathways up to mirror some of the academic experiences they could explore here at UCCS,” Trujillo said. “We want to give them an idea of where these pathways could take them professionally. We want to expand their idea of what the possibilities are within the field.”

Data reaching back to the program’s 1987 inception shows that it works. In 2019, 100 percent of the program’s graduating seniors stated that they planned to enroll in college after their high school graduation, and they all applied to UCCS. More than 40 percent of them enrolled for the fall semester. They persisted to the spring 2019 semester at a rate of 90 percent – significantly higher than that for UCCS’ first-year students not affiliated with the program.

Of course, due to the COVID pandemic, things have changed since the spring semester.

Things look different for program participants this summer. Rising tenth, eleventh and twelfth-grade students are normally invited to a Summer Academic Institute on the UCCS campus, where students participate in dually enrolled courses for college credit and take SAT and PSAT preparation courses. Based on their chosen career pathway, students take field trips – health students to Anschutz Medical Campus, human services students to the Care and Share headquarters – to experience what life looks like for industry professionals. This summer, the program cancelled all in-person programming to comply with public health guidance.

But students have still been able to prepare for college – remotely.

Students in the program’s human services pathway visit Care and Share Food Bank.

“Many of our students’ parents were essential workers who lost jobs and positions. Some of our students had to go to work themselves,” said Andi Diamond, academic services program director.

“We recognized the pressure they have in their own lives, and we made the Summer Academic Institute optional this year. We were expecting maybe 50 to 100 students. But we had an overwhelming response back. Students wanted to continue with the program, and their parents and families did as well.”

The office worked to move the program to remote learning software and offer it free of charge, to reduce the financial burden on families.

And with so much uncertainty about the fall semester, UCCS’ transition coaches – undergraduate students who offer mentorship to program participants – have hosted roundtable discussions for their mentees. Students who enrolled in the program had the opportunity to ask about how COVID-19 changed their coaches’ academic and social lives, how they navigated challenges, homesickness, culture shock and other topics.

“The transition coaches are experts of their own experience,” Trujillo said. “It’s very much a peer-to-peer mentoring situation for all the attendees.”

The office sees their transition coaches as playing a key role in the program’s mission: to help build a sense of community at UCCS.

“Many of our transition coaches are Colorado Springs natives or grew up in the area,” said Jessica George, academic services program coordinator. “They can point our students to resources both on- and off-campus. If these students do decide to come to UCCS, they already have that built-in sense of community.”

And for Diamond, the work is all about the future – creating an impact on students’ lives that will carry forward over generations.

“We recognize that success can and should look different for each student,” Diamond said. “We always want to make sure students are working to better themselves, no matter what is in line for them after high school. It has a generational impact for them – it impacts their families and their communities and the families they will have in the future.”

“We love fostering that growth and progress-oriented mindset for students to improve their skills, to know themselves and to make their world a better place.”

Learn more about the Pre-Collegiate Program online.