Area students earn high school, college degrees simultaneously | Local News



Morgan Young graduated from Benton High School this spring and, thanks to  dual-credit  and dual-enrollment programs, she also received her associates degree from Rend Lake College. Young will be going on to SIU this fall, entering as an 18 year-old junior.

Byron Hetzler

Following Rend Lake College’s Commencement on May 14, Morgan Young did not have time to hang around and congratulate her fellow graduates. Nor did she pause to visit with faculty members. She did pose for a few photographs, but had to hurry to another graduation – also her own.

Just a few hours after graduating from Rend Lake College, Young, 18, also graduated from Benton Consolidated High School.

“I actually changed gowns in the car,” she said with a giggle.

Through enrollment in dual credit classes which counted both toward high school graduation requirements and college credits as well as taking online courses from Rend Lake College, Young was able to complete her studies at both institutions simultaneously and even though the associate degrees (yes, she earned both an associate of science and an associate of art degree) were contingent upon the college’s receipt of a high school transcript, Young, in essence, graduated from college before high school.

She wasn’t alone. Across the region, more than a dozen high school students completed community college degrees at the same time as their high school coursework.

“There are different ways that a student can graduate from college at the same time as high school,” explained Rend Lake Colleges Vice President of Instruction and Student Affairs Lori Ragland.

Ragland’s son, Nathan, was one of seven students who completed their high school and Rend Lake College studies at the same time.

She said students can take “dual credit” classes which meet requirements for both high school and college simultaneously, do “dual enrollment” where they take college classes online or in the evenings and weekends or a mix of both.

In addition to shaving semesters or years off of college, she said there are significant financial savings as well, pointing out that dual credit classes are tuition-free and the college waives 50% of tuition for high school students who are dual-enrolled.

Another benefit is exposure to career fields and college options, Rachel Sveda-Webb, director of college readiness at John A. Logan College, explained.

“If students take an introduction to criminal justice or welding class for example, not only does it get them college credit, but it helps them narrow down their list of possible majors, she said. “There also is an opportunity for career exploration and to understand college expectations at the same time.”

She cautions, however, that getting two degrees at once is not only rare, but also challenging.

“I would ask a student what their goal is and what kind of extra-curriculars they have going on to see if they really want to and can finish both at the same time, yet it is definitely doable,” she said.

Young said, “I had always heard about people graduating from college when they graduated high school and I thought it was crazy and never thought I would be able to do it. About this time last year, though, I was talking to a counselor at Rend Lake and she told me if I just took a few other classes, I could get both degrees.”

Young said very few of her high school classes counted for both Rend Lake and high school. Instead, all of her college work was completed with online classes from Rend Lake.

“I started just before I was 16 and I wasn’t paling any sports in high school so I had a lot of time. I just got taking more and more and ended up with two degrees,” she explained.

Carly Peck took another path. Every class she took during her senior year at Joppa High School were dual-credit, meaning each one checked off requirements for both her high school and for Shawnee Community College.

Peck, 18, graduated from high school on May 12 and from SCC the following day. She said she complemented the dual-credit classes with dual enrollment – taking courses both in high school and online from the college at the same time, often taking five classes at school and two more online.

 “I thought, ‘Why not get college out of the way?’ I mean that’s two years that I could just live my life more.”

She completed both degrees while involved in FFA, Beta club and working at a retail store. Still, she earned straight A’s in all four years of high school and, with the exception of one B from Shawnee, all A’s in college, too.

Peck said she knows the educational approach is not for everyone.

“If a student is very determined and headstrong with discipline, I say go for it because it will save you two years on your bachelor’s degree and get you into your career that much sooner,” Peck, who will begin her junior year in the fall, studying business administration at Southeast Missouri State University.

Teale Betts, high school partnerships and pathways coordinator at Shawnee Community College said dual credit and dual enrollment classes give students, especially in rural areas, opportunities they otherwise would not have.

“It is not for everyone, though,” she said. “After all, how many of us in high school knew 100% what we wanted to do in the future? Still, it’s a great way for students to get their feet wet with college and could something that could really help them,” she said.

Young, who this fall will be a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in agribusiness economics, said she realizes doubling up on education is not for everyone, but she is glad she did it.

“At times I thought it was going to be hard, but I found a way to be organized and got through it,” she said.


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Natasha M. McKnight

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