LONGMONT — When Jose Trijo immigrated to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, his initial goal was to find work.
Since then, however, Trijo has grown weary of low-wage jobs. Now, he has dreams of a college education and is in the midst of the admissions process at Front Range Community College.
“I want to finish with these $8-an-hour jobs, and I think college will be the way,” said the 24-year-old Trijo, who’s married and has two small children. “I have been given help by many to help me with this.”
One source for assistance for Trijo, and other students who have college aspirations but need help reaching their goal, is John Poynton, director of communication for FRCC’s Boulder County campuses.
“There’s a big problem in Colorado with people not going to college,” he said. “I see real concerns about access to college for Americans in general. It’s hard to find resources, time, and make it a priority, but I would like to work with students such as Trijo to make it more of a reality.”
Spiros Protopsaltis, policy analyst at the Bell Policy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals move toward self-sufficiency, says that Trijo is a minority in Colorado, not because he’s an immigrant but because he wants to pursue higher education.
According to the Bell Policy Center, only 28 percent of Coloradan’s seek higher education within six years of graduating from high school, which ranks the state 43rd nationally.
The same statistics show that only 15.4 percent of minority young adults in Colorado enroll in post-secondary within six years of graduating from high school — 48th in the nation. Only 21.9 percent of low-income young adults go on to college within this same time frame — 35th in the nation.
“We are doing a very, very poor job of educating our students and especially young adults,” said Protopsaltis. “This is something that we as a state need to address. The current statistics should be considered shocking.”
Dusty Dreiling of Johnstown is one Coloradan who decided not to go on to college.
“When I graduated from high school nine years ago, I was given an opportunity to work for a drag racing team, and that’s what I wanted to do, so I took it,” he said.
An assistant manager at Midas on Ken Pratt Boulevard, Dreiling said he is thinking about taking classes at FRCC, but because of time, money and other considerations, he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to do so.
Trijo, however, is ready and willing to get into college.
After moving from Mexico to Oklahoma City in 1997, Trijo moved to Texas, where he earned a GED high school equivalency diploma and got married. The family then moved to Colorado in 1999.
Trijo now works at Intermountain Railway in Longmont, which manufactures model railway cars.
“I don’t want to be working in the factory forever,” he said.
This is why Poynton is so enthusiastic about helping Trijo enroll at FRCC. He sees him as an inspiration.
He also sees the struggle Colorado is having with higher education as a step-by-step challenge.
“When individuals take their first steps into college, I want to participate ... to get on the college trail would be a great success for our community,” he said.
John Cody, president and CEO of the Longmont Area Economic Council, calls higher education the “most important factor in maintaining a capable work force.”
Cody believes the state should encourage higher education and that individuals should make it a goal because it is the “number one asset in recruiting and obtaining priority employees.”
According to Poynton, FRCC offers financial support, language labs and guidance, so Trijo will be well-supported in his efforts.
As of now, Trijo has met with his academic adviser and has begun the planning process. He still needs to take placement exams and apply for financial aid, but Poynton is confident that he will be enrolled in the college quickly.
“I see this as a remarkable act of courage,” said Poynton. “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is when you’re just a student looking to get ahead.”
Peter Marcus can be reached at 303-776-2244, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.