More than half of Denver students who graduated high school last year – 51 percent – immediately enrolled in a two- or four-year college, according to school district officials. That was a 5 percentage-point increase from the year before and the biggest bump on record.

Denver Public Schools celebrated that achievement Thursday morning at South High School, the city’s second-biggest high school. The rate for the South High class of 2017 was even higher: 95 percent pursued some sort of postsecondary education or joined the military, principal Jen Hanson said, with 67 percent of graduates enrolling in four-year colleges.

“Students’ passion, dedication, and tenacity is inspiring,” Hanson said.

Districtwide, officials are particularly proud that the college enrollment rate for black students increased by 9 percentage points after years of decline.

However, officials acknowledged there are still gaps between white students and students of color: 61 percent of white students who graduated in 2017 immediately enrolled in college, while the percentages for black and Latino students were 51 percent and 42 percent, respectively, according to district data (see slides below).

There is also a gap between students from low-income families and students from more affluent families. Forty-five percent of 2017 graduates who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch immediately enrolled in college, while 54 percent of graduates who did not qualify enrolled, district data shows.

School board President Anne Rowe partly credited the overall increase in college enrollment to the work of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit that operates 12 college counseling centers in the district and whose advisers work with students from 25 schools, including South High.

College enrollment rates are different than college acceptance rates, which are more often touted. Homegrown charter network DSST has a 100 percent acceptance rate. The network’s enrollment rate in two- and four-year colleges last year was 88 percent, with 82 percent of graduates enrolling in four-year colleges, according to DSST.

South High senior Sara Gebretsadik plans next year to attend the state’s flagship public college, the University of Colorado Boulder, on a prestigious scholarship. Gebretsadik, who immigrated with her family from Ethiopia eight years ago, plans to study business. She said she aspires to one day become the CEO of the Denver-based fast-casual burrito restaurant Chipotle.

“It was one of the first restaurants I fell in love with because I hated American food when I came here,” she said. If she were CEO, Gebretsadik said she would establish a “very big” charity division within the company. She also dreams of founding a nonprofit that would teach ethical business practices to young business owners in her native Ethiopia, she said.

“My family has bestowed this idea of, ‘If you’re educated, you’re able to help a lot more people,’” Gebretsadik said. “I’ve always wanted to help more people.”