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By earning 60 college credits before leaving high school, adding a second major doesn’t seem as time-consuming or expensive to a local student.

Colleen Beasley, a Center Grove High School graduate, will attend Hanover College to study political science. But with an associate’s degree already on her transcript, she is considering adding a business major to her studies.

Classmate McKenna Nickum also has an associate’s degree, which will give her the flexibility to spend a semester studying abroad.

About 20 students at Center Grove and Franklin Community earned associate’s degrees in early college programs through Vincennes University and Ivy Tech Community College. Center Grove, Franklin and Whiteland Community High School all offer an early college program. Students earn credit both in high school and toward a college degree by taking advanced classes taught by either specially trained high school teachers or visiting college professors.

The programs prepare students for the workload and expectations of college while offering an affordable way to earn college credit, said Sandra Hillman, the early college program director at Center Grove.

They also allow students to save money on their college education, get a head start on earning a double major and afford them the time necessary to study abroad.

“This program is a good way to ease into college,” Center Grove High School graduate Trevor Haynes said. “It’s like you’re going up a ramp instead of jumping over a giant wall.”

Case in point: Students in the Center Grove program need no time in choosing the most difficult assignment they’ve had to complete: a 15-page college-level paper for English 202. Sources for the paper had to come from research projects and databases, not quick Internet searches. The 15-page minimum length was about twice as long as any previous paper they had to write.

Students got to choose the topic. Beasley wrote about how the gender of a child affects the coping process when parents divorce. Nickum looked at why teen pregnancy has increased over the past 20 years.

Students had to learn how to research a topic through databases, think critically about a topic, and manage their schedules to allow for more time to work on the project, Beasley said.

“We teach them skills they’re going to need to survive in college,” Hillman said. “And that is more than content knowledge. We want them to gain research skills and learn how to advocate for themselves by finding a tutor if they’re lost in a class.”

Fifteen Center Grove students passed the necessary 60 credit hours to earn an associate’s degree this year through the school’s partnership with Vincennes University. Eight other students earned a General Education Core Certificate after passing 30 credit hours.

Franklin had five students earn an associate’s degree through a partnership with Ivy Tech, while 12 received a technical certificate, which means they passed 30 credit hours of general education courses, guidance director Jan Henderson said.

Whiteland offers dual-credit classes through partnerships with multiple schools, including Ivy Tech, the University of Southern Indiana, Indiana State University and Vincennes.

But a student can’t earn enough credits for an associate’s degree. The school had 150 seniors earn some college credits, with some earning as many as 18 credits, guidance director Shannon Fritz said.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity because we’re going to save a lot of time and a lot of money in our future,” Haynes said. “We’re going into college two years ahead.”

Students can save about $20,000 by earning an associate’s degree in high school, and those savings don’t include the expenses of room and board. For example, tuition and fees at Indiana University cost $10,208 for one year, and $9,900 at Purdue University. The cost for room and board ranges from about $9,000 to $10,000 per year.

The 20 local students who earned an associate’s degree paid about $4,500 to $5,000 for that degree. Students typically pay $25 per credit hour for almost all the classes that are offered at local high schools.

The few exceptions are classes that are taught by adjunct professors, which cost $75 per credit hour. But only three classes at Center Grove — philosophy, speech and advanced nutrition — are taught by adjunct professors.

“I was kind of forced into it by my mom because she decided it would be cheaper and that it would also be better for me to get an early start,” Nickum said.

Center Grove limits the number of students in the program to 120 per grade in order to maintain a small-school environment. That’s important because the students might need more help in the challenging classes, Hillman said. The courses aren’t easy and are closely monitored. For example, if a student is given a D in one class and has not worked hard, that student might have to take regular classes for a semester before re-entering the program, Hillman said.

Center Grove has offered early college classes for five years and is finishing its fourth year of partnering with Vincennes, making this year’s senior class the first group to have four years to earn dual-credit hours through the junior college.

Any student can apply for the program but must meet certain criteria to be selected. For example, students have to be reading at their grade level or better. Teacher recommendations on work ethic, ISTEP scores and grades in core education classes also are considered, Hillman said.

Students interested in math, science and engineering classes would be better suited to focus on a 30-hour general education core certificate, which is accepted by any public state university.

Many of the credits in an associate’s degree may not be required if you wanted to be an engineer, Hillman said.

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