After failing a Spanish class his freshman year, he worried his chance of earning credits for college while still in high school was ruined.

Zach Alexander had hoped to be able to earn an associate degree at Center Grove High School through an early college program that about 120 students are admitted to each school year.

“To be honest, going into that summer after freshman year, after I had failed a class, I was like, ‘It’s over. My life is done.’ I was just overthinking things,” Alexander said.

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Alexander signed up for Spanish again his sophomore year and passed the class, he said.

He also got rid of study halls in his class schedule and took summer school classes in order to graduate with his degree, he said.

Alexander has earned 62 credits going into college this fall, he said.

He was one of 17 seniors who received an associate degree as well as their high school diploma this year. A total of 3,148 college credits were earned by students in the early college program this year, according to a news release.

Across the county, local school districts have been putting more of an emphasis on having high school students earn college credits before they get their diplomas. Schools have added more Advanced Placement classes, where students can take a test to earn college credit, and dual credit courses, where students earn college credit at the same time as high school credit for courses.

At Whiteland Community High School, more than 60 percent of the senior class was enrolled in college-level courses last school year. And school officials’ goal is for every student to earn nine college credits by graduation.

And at Greenwood Community High School and Center Grove High School, about a quarter of students took AP, dual-credit or early college courses last school year.

Center Grove High School students can take college-level classes toward an associate degree or a general education core certificate through Vincennes University. The students are in smaller classes and have the same faculty members to teach the courses year after year.

Students are admitted to the program each year based on reading level, grades and recommendations, according to a news release from the school district.

The program allows them to rack up dozens of college credits by the time they graduate, allowing them to finish college faster or have a lighter course load each semester.

Alexander thought the program would help him save money when paying for college, he said.

“Since that moment, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this,’” Alexander said. “I knew having two years done now would mean quite a bit in the future.”

A fellow senior, Andrea Boksa, knew she wanted to study nursing in college and thought joining the early college program would relieve some of her stress later on, she said.

“At first, I was really hesitant to do early college,” Boksa said.

“Once I started getting into it, I thought, ‘This needs to be a goal of mine.’”

While Alexander gets to graduate in less than three years at Indiana University, Boksa will still have to take four years of nursing courses. But her courseload each semester will be lower than the average student’s, she said.

Boksa joined the early college program as a freshman, but moved to another school district for the majority of her sophomore year, she said. She noticed she was bored the majority of the time, and didn’t feel engaged in classes, she said.

When she moved back to Center Grove in the last nine weeks of her sophomore year, Boksa realized how much she had appreciated the early college program. Despite being behind almost a whole school year, Boksa was eager to get back on track with her classmates by taking online courses and filling up her class load during the school year, she said.

“I missed it so much when I was gone,” Boksa said. “It made me realize how lucky I was to be in such a rigorous program.”

By the numbers

Here’s a look at how many Center Grove High School seniors graduated with an associate degree or a general education core certificate through Vincennes University, as well as their high school diploma:

School year;associate degrees;core certificates;credit hours earned