FARMINGTON — Students from southwestern Colorado high schools could soon have the option to enroll in early admission classes at San Juan College.

College officials have been working to develop procedures to allow Colorado high schools students to take courses and earn college credit while still in high school. It's part of an effort to help the regional workforce and provide classes not offered at other Four Corners higher education institutes.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass and School of Energy Dean Randy Pacheco visited with a couple of Colorado school superintendents in June to discuss the program. David Eppich, the college's vice president for student services, said the superintendents showed interest in the program.

A number of school districts from southwestern Colorado -- including those from Bayfield, Ignacio and Durango -- paid a visit to San Juan College to see what programs the school offered, including those not offered by Fort Lewis College in Durango and Southwest Colorado Community College campuses in Durango and Mancos.

"We've had nice discussions with them about programs we might be able to engage with them on," Eppich said. "We got to work hard to develop the labor force for the current and future needs for San Juan County and regionally."

Durango School District 9-R spokeswoman Julie Snider-Popp said she was impressed with the programs available at San Juan College and the opportunities for employment the courses offered.

"We find many of our students who do take advantage of concurrent enrollment at San Juan College get hired right out of class, especially those along a career and technical education path, such as dental hygiene or nursing," Snider-Popp said in an email. "In addition to earning credit, these opportunities also expand students' college and workforce readiness."

College officials are still coordinating Colorado and New Mexico early enrollment requirements to ensure credits students earn transfer to other two- and four-year higher education institutes.

San Juan College has three students from Colorado high schools enrolled for the winter 2014 semester, said Jon Betz, the college's senior director for enrollment management. Two of the students registered are from Bayfield High School, and one is from Ignacio High.

The program is set to officially launch in fall 2014.

"For all of 2014, we are looking at 40 to 50 students," Betz said. "We'll see how it goes. We're in the infancy stages."

Eppich said San Juan College is not competing with Fort Lewis College and Southwestern Colorado Community College but rather filling educational gaps with programs Colorado high schools are interested in.

Bayfield High School Principal Scott Story said to have San Juan College offer courses from the School of Trades and Technology can gives students a head start before graduation.

"We really believe we need to give all our kids the options to get college and career-ready, and a lot of that is happening outside the school walls," Story said.

Story said programs through the School of Trades and Technology, as well as through the School of Health Science and the School of Energy, offer classes students could not get elsewhere.

The principal also believes investing in students early can develop the region's workforce.

"It builds up our communities and gives them what they are looking for: workforce-ready employees," Story said. "These programs help build that and build the local economy and businesses."

Avril Fisher, a counselor at Ignacio High School, said one student enrolled for welding courses at San Juan College for the winter 2014 semester. Now, the high school is trying to use the resources of the college to inform students about possible career options.

"We have a lot of students that have no idea what they want to do in the future," Fisher said. "These options give them an area to explore without having to invest a lot of money to get in college and explore."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.