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Free College Credits Help Students Get Ahead

George Washington High School student Ibrahem Safieddine, who participated in the ASCENT (Accelerating Students via Concurrent Enrollment) program.

A growing number of DPS students are getting a head start on earning a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree while saving money though the ASCENT (Accelerating Students via Concurrent Enrollment) program.

ASCENT is a program passed through Colorado legislation that allows DPS to pay the college tuition, fees and cost of textbooks for one full year of college for participating students. While a number of ASCENT students are the first in their families to go to college, more students are seeing it as an option for their future regardless of their personal financial situation.

One of the 90 students currently participating in the program is 18-year-old Ibrahem Safieddine from George Washington High School. Ibrahem was born in the United States, and at age six moved to Kuwait for his mom’s job in petroleum engineering. Living in Kuwait, he had the opportunity to study Arabic for nine years — a skill that gave him fluency in both writing and speaking the language.

“I came back to the U.S. my sophomore year, and worked fast to adapt to the new school system,” he said.

Ibrahem worked hard to research ways to cut back on his higher education costs, and was able to graduate early. At only 18 years old, he is a junior in college, and is making smart choices in funding his education.

“My biggest motivation is completing my doctorate degree at 24 years old, debt-free. I set that goal a long time ago and it seems that it is getting closer semester by semester,” said Ibrahem. “With paying for college, I was curious and wanted to see how far I could go before I need my parents’ help. I will be able to get my master’s degree without their help. ASCENT is the main reason for this happening!”

DPS ASCENT Program Manager LaRae Scott-Jennings shared insights into what is motivating students to apply for ASCENT:

“A number of ASCENT students have experienced various barriers to even successfully completing high school. However, they come to the program optimistic and eager to learn and work toward achieving success for not only themselves, but for their families, as well. I am constantly inspired by the gratefulness that so many students extend as a result of being able to participate in the program,” she said.

She went on to explain, “Students tell me they wouldn’t have been able to attend, persist and graduate college without the help of this program. I often think, ‘sure you would have,’ but it is humbling to know that they give so much credit to ASCENT for their success.”

Each ASCENT student has a story — where they came from, what their passions are and who they want to become.

“I enjoy reading finance books and learning the tricks of the game,” said Ibrahem. And that is paying off, as he was able to build a successful business that creates a steady income for him, all while being in school full-time. While he has a goal of graduating with a doctorate degree completely debt-free, he is setting aside money from his business now to help pay for continuing his education as needed.

Passed into law in 2009 as an extension of the concurrent enrollment program, the purpose of ASCENT is to improve academic programming and create a path for students to enroll in college courses and earn credits while in high school. Students are eligible to enroll in a minimum of 12 credit hours each semester at one of many participating community or technical colleges. ASCENT is different from other first-year collegiate programs, which typically offer either academic or socio-emotional support. ASCENT offers both, with students having access to whole child supports including academic, social and emotional, and financial support throughout their entire first year of college.

“The DPS ASCENT team works closely with our high schools and college partners to determine best practices for transition, retention, persistence and, of course, graduation,” added Scott-Jennings.

Students interested in the program should consult their school counselor and/or Denver Scholarship Foundation advisor.