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Community College of Denver Launches Affordable Program for Students Returning to Finish Their Degrees

Last month, in partnership with educational company StraighterLine, the Community College of Denver (CCD) launched CCD Academy, which provides an opportunity for students to return to college and work toward their degree at a lower cost.

According to, the overall dropout rate for undergraduate students is 40%, with 30% of college freshmen dropping out before their sophomore year.

“Too often, students may just need a short break from higher education but lack the ability to take it,” said Burck Smith, StraighterLine’s founder and chief executive officer, in a statement. “CCD has recognized that by providing flexible, self-paced online courses, CCD Academy can offer stop-outs a way to start, pause as needed and continue their education, helping students balance their lives while progressing toward their degree.”

Some students leave college because of high tuition costs or other fees, family expenses or also “potentially a lack of confidence, ability or a belief they can do it,” said Ruthanne K. Orihuela, provost and vice president of academic affairs at CCD.

“Our hope is to reach out to those students who, for whatever reason, have made a decision earlier to not continue with their college education or to not begin,” she added.

Through CCD Academy, students can choose their academic course of study and complete lower-division courses such as general education requirements.

All the college-credit courses are offered online and depending on their degree program, students can enroll and take up to six classes through StraighterLine. Students can also choose how many classes to take at a time.

In addition to course offerings, the program provides students with one-on-one tutoring sessions, free e-textbooks and other support services. Students have to pay a monthly fee of $150 and they can stop courses at any time. Upon completion, students’ credits can be transferred to CCD, where they can enroll to finish their degree.

“We are working to create easily accessible opportunities at low risk and low cost for students to get a leg up on their journey to earn some credits before coming back to or coming to CCD,” said Orihuela. “And when they are ready to come back or to join us, we’re going to be here to support them with great quality education classes, but then also the support services that help them continue to be successful on their journey and walk across that stage.”

In discussions with StraighterLine over the course of three years, CCD used data from the National Student Clearinghouse to analyze its student population. CCD found three different groups of potential students who may need the program — those who started school but didn’t finish, those who never attended school and those who originally registered but never ended up attending any classes.

“Once we figured out that we actually had three audiences that could really benefit from this sort of engagement in higher education and use it as a tool to come back to an institution of higher education, we got really excited about that,” said Orihuela. “This is definitely an opportunity [to] have some really significant impact in our community for our students.”

Orihuela said she wants Denver public school students, in particular, to know that college is an option for them, and that if they are unsure, they should consider attending a community college, which has advantages like small class sizes, transfer course options and a less expensive route toward earning a degree.

According to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 35% of job openings require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30% of job openings require some college or an associate degree.

“I think in this time of insecurity, a lot of people are questioning what [their] next step [is],” said Orihuela. “Their plan might have been going to a four-year institution or two-year institution but maybe they are looking at kind of reconsidering that. We don’t want students to reconsider higher education completely.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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