ASPEN - Western Slope high school students mingled with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and other academic leaders Sunday at the seventh annual Western Slope College Fair at Aspen High School.
An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 students and their parents showed up from 60 different schools that were extended an invitation.
Bennet, D-Colo., is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He opened the event discussing the importance of giving children the opportunity to "go farther" than the generations before them. Bennet is also the former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
College fair organizers signed on with Bennet's goals to create more opportunity for the next generation through a commitment to education.
"It's one thing to talk about how important it is to go to college," Bennet said, "but it is critical to get kids into a place where they are face-to-face with people who are representing the universities so they can understand what it looks like."
About 220 colleges and organizations had representatives at the fair, including Ivy League universities, state schools from all over the country, and two-year technical colleges.
"For being an educational exposition for colleges, it's another world-class event that we're able to offer to these kids," said Sandra Peirce, one of about 100 volunteers for the fair's organizing committee.
From its first year, the event has tripled in student attendance.
Many students came by bus from such Colorado towns and cities as Durango, Grand Junction and Bayfield. College in Colorado, a program that helps state students continue their education past high school, provided many of the buses.
The event also offered workshops for students and parents on topics including financial aid, finding the right college for an individual, admissions to highly selective schools, and information for the college-bound student-athlete.
Peirce said she believes the program is beneficial not only for the students but also for the colleges because the program allows the schools to reach a diverse student population the Western Slope can offer.
"It's kind of a two-way street," Peirce said. "We give the kids access to the colleges, then we give the colleges access to really great, rural kids that they may not typically see."
Students lined up at a variety of not only in-state schools such as the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University, but also Arizona State University, Stanford University and Hawai'i Pacific University.
"I think it's a great thing," said Kellen Kremer, an Aspen High School senior. "It's a great opportunity for us to see all the colleges out there."
Bennet said, "This is the most incredible college fair that exists in the state. This thing beats anything that happens on the Front Range."