Metropolitan State College of Denver is so packed with students that officials are spending $24,000 a semester to rent space at a campus movie theater to hold classes.
Though enrollment is up at colleges across the state, those serving high-risk students, such as Metro and community colleges, feel the squeeze the most.
Enrollment is up 19 percent since the fall of 2008 at 13 community colleges across Colorado, and nearly 60 programs are full and putting students on wait lists.
In November, enrollment at the 13 schools totaled almost 83,000, according to the Colorado Community College System.
Metro will likely cap enrollment in 2011 for students who need remediation classes, president Steve Jordan said. "The bad news is that the game is up," he said. "It’s crazy; the state needs to take responsibility for this."
State Sen. Keith King thinks there could be one solution: Let the state’s for-profit colleges take the heat off.
The Colorado Springs Republican is sponsoring a bill that would let students who take general education classes at private schools, including for-profit colleges such as Colorado Technical University and Westwood College, transfer those credits to public schools.
Currently, public schools do not universally accept credits earned at for-profit colleges because accreditation is different. For-profits, which attract lower-income students, also charge more than twice public-school tuition.
Already a state program called "Graduate Transfer Pathways" allows more than 1,200 courses to be universally accepted at all Colorado public schools. Usually, the credits are the first 30 or 40 a student takes when starting college.
Under King’s bill, private schools could pay a fee to the Department of Higher Education so officials there could ensure the classes were up to par. If they are, private school credits would be transferrable just like other colleges’.
"If the private institutions are willing to step up and go through the rigor, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to do this," King said. "This would ultimately make it easier for students."
Alan Lamborn, vice provost for undergraduate affairs at Colorado State University, said he worries about for-profits’ course quality and the lack of oversight.
Accepting credits from for-profit schools is like "selling our brand to other people without our ability to control it," he said.
Department of Higher Education Director Rico Munn said his office needs to study the idea before taking a position.
"We need to take a look at whether it works in our system," he said.
Colorado Technical University president Wallace Pond said the law would help students.
"The more times a student has to retake the same course, the longer it takes to graduate," he said via e-mail. "And the more publicly supported financial aid is consumed over again for the same coursework."