DENVER -- A tuition-free charter school that offers students the ability to earn a degree is set to expand into the Denver metro area.
Colorado Early Colleges, which currently has a location in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, will be opening a third location in Parker in the fall.
Colorado Springs Early Colleges opened in 2007, offering the ability for students to pursue college credit if they choose to.
Noah Dome, 17, says he didn't know what to expect when he enrolled in Colorado Springs Early Colleges, but he's now set to graduate with much more than his high school diploma.
“I’m about to get my bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in management,” Noah said.
Noah says he quickly embraced the charter school's model, which freed him to transition from high school classes, to college-prep and then to actual courses at Colorado Technical University.
Noah says he embraced the challenge without being pressured by his school or parents.
“I just said, let’s go for it. What’s the harm in trying? If they’re going to pay for it I might as well give it my all,” Noah said.
Keith King, administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges says the appeal of taking college courses free of charge is a big draw for parents and students.
“We’re spending way over a million dollars a year of state funding on the kids to pay their tuition and we’re happy to do that,” King said.
Most of the students at Early Colleges are not on track to earn their bachelor’s degree before graduating, but many will earn much more than their high school diploma.
“The average student last year left with about 50 college credits,” King said.
Most of the students will graduate with more than enough credits for an associate’s degree, and that number will grow even larger when the school expands to its third location in Parker in the fall.
“We need an educated workforce and this gives them an opportunity that they would probably never have,” King said.
For Noah and his family, that opportunity means access to a degree that seemed unattainable.
“I would have never gotten (a degree) without them," Noah said. "I didn’t have enough money and I saved tens of thousands of dollars just thanks to this amazing program.”
“It’s definitely a blessing," said Craig Dome, Noah's father. "God, words can’t even describe how blessed we are with him doing this for us, and for him as well.”
There are similar early college schools in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
A recent study by the American Institutes for Research found that they had higher rates of graduation, college enrollment and degree attainment compared to other students, especially among women, minority students and those from low-income families.