For 96 Center Grove High School students, the past four years provided more than just a foundation for their postsecondary educations.

While they were meeting requirements for their high school diplomas, they also were working toward credits for college. They took English composition, U.S. history and psychology, with college classes sometimes making up their entire course load.

Some of the students will go to college in the fall as the equivalent of a junior.

Early-college and dual-credit programs in Johnson County have allowed students to get a jump on college studies while finishing their high school requirements. Students can shave off up to two years’ worth of credits, saving on tuition and clearing the way for more intensive, major-specific coursework right away.

“I knew there was a great opportunity to really further my college education, and I could get an associate’s degree in four years of high school,” said Logan Tharpe, a Center Grove senior. “That would make it easier and quicker for me to get a higher degree in college.”

On Thursday night, 26 Center Grove students accepted their associate’s degrees from Vincennes University during a ceremony at Center Grove High School. Another 16 earned at least 30 hours of credits and got the state’s General Education Core Certificate, meaning they can bypass general education courses at any state university in Indiana.

The Center Grove students who graduated from the early-college program this year earned more than 3,800 college credits over four years. That saved them a total of $955,000 in tuition.

Chris Crowder intends to go to medical school after he earns a degree from Marian University. By earning an associate’s degree already, he saves that much more time

“I did it to shave off a few years from college,” he said. “I plan on being in college for a long time, so shaving off two years is nice.”

Tharpe plans to study sports management at University of Indianapolis, finishing his bachelor’s degree in two years, then working to earn a master’s degree. All of that will fit in the normal four-year college time frame.

Michelle Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, twin sisters at Center Grove, both started in the early-college program as freshmen. They got basic classes such as English literature and American history out of the way.

“It’s advanced and cheaper and faster. You get so much more college experience than any high school class would give you,” Michelle Bennett said. “It prepares you a lot more for college.”

Indiana law requires that every high school offer some kind of dual-credit program. Some allow students to earn up to an associate’s degree from Vincennes University.

This year, Whiteland Community High School offered classes that fulfilled both high school and college credits. Professors from Ivy Tech Community College came to the school throughout the year, providing instruction in sociology, English composition and public speaking.

Other schools partner with Ivy Tech to offer core college courses. According to Ivy Tech, the dual-credit programs have saved students and their parents about $14 million on college tuition.

Franklin teamed with Ivy Tech to provide advanced opportunities for students looking to be the first in their families to go to college. Students are recruited to the program their freshman year and take college preparatory courses throughout high school. They can earn up to 60 hours of college credit toward an associate’s degree.

About 100 are in the program, with 30 to 35 each in sophomore, junior and senior grade levels.

“We just want to provide them with the support and give them the confidence that it’s not if I’m going to college, it’s where I’m going to college, to build that atmosphere,” said Leah Wooldridge, director of Franklin’s early-college program.

The Center Grove program has been offered since 2009. It has grown to include 425 students this year, and 44 percent of the graduating senior class at the school took some form of early-college class. Classes are taught by high school teachers certified to instruct the advanced subjects or college professors hired to come to Center Grove.

“There’s a higher difficulty to these classes,” Tharpe said. “When you take an early-college class, you’re no longer just a high school student. There’s a higher expectation for us, and you’re held to that standard.”

The program typically includes about 100 students in each grade level, who can start as early as the freshman year as long as their grades and test scores meet grade-level standards.

“We’re with each other all four years, so we’re like a family,” said Makayla Haas, a Center Grove senior.

That was the draw for senior Samuel Brown. He had been home-schooled up to high school and had heard that early college was a closer group than the whole student community.

“I felt like that would be a lot easier than just jumping into the whole high school,” he said.

Haas applied for the program when she was in eighth grade, not really seriously thinking that she would stick with it. But for three of her four high school years, it helped her earn 64 college credits.

Many courses, such as college algebra, music appreciation and world literature, were available. Haas said she took whatever she could, mixing in the early-college courses with her normal Center Grove coursework.

“I’ll graduate from my college two years early,” she said. “What appealed to me most was getting those credits, graduating early and saving money.”

The Tharpe File

Who: Logan Tharpe

Age: 17

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: General Education Core Certificate from Vincennes University

College attending: University of Indianapolis

Major: Sports management

The Haas File

Who: Makayla Haas

Age: 18

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: Associate’s degree from Vincennes University

College attending: University of Southern Indiana

Major: Premed/Biology

The Elizabeth Bennet File

Who: Elizabeth Bennett

Age: 18

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: Associate’s degree from Vincennes University

College attending: Grace College

Major: Psychology

The Michelle Bennett File

Who: Michelle Bennett

Age: 18

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: Associate’s degree from Vincennes University

College attending: Grace College

Major: Communications/journalism

The Crowder File

Who: Chris Crowder

Age: 18

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: General Education Core Certificate from Vincennes University

College attending: Marian University

Major: Premed/biology

The Brown File

Who: Samuel Brown

Age: 18

School: Center Grove High School

Earned: Dual-credit recipient

College attending: Vincennes University

Major: Undecided

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.