Several Indiana high schools give students a chance to earn college credits.

Two local schools go a step further and offer students an opportunity to receive a college degree before they graduate from high school.

Through the Austin Crothersville Early College Initiative, students can take dual-credit courses taught by qualified high school teachers at Austin and Crothersville and professors with Ivy Tech Community College. They receive an associate degree in general studies after earning at least 61 credit hours.

In the past five years, 44 Crothersville students have received degrees. By doing so, they spend a year or two less and save between $30,000 and $40,000 in earning a higher college degree.

During the recent Ivy Tech graduation ceremony at Columbus North High School, 12 Crothersville seniors walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. That was the most for Crothersville in one year.

“I feel great pride when I hear our students’ names read and see them accept their degree. I wanted to jump up at those moments and shout, ‘Yay! You did it. I’m so proud of you,'” Crothersville Principal David Schill said.

“It is such an uplifting experience to see these students be honored for earning something that very few other high school students ever earn,” he said. “Other students around the state have the opportunity to earn associate degrees, but none of the programs are as extensive as ours, and none of them are free to the student other than books.”

When Schill began as principal in the 2006-07 school year, he said the state began requiring high schools to offer some type of dual-credit program.

Schill and Superintendent Terry Goodin talked to Ivy Tech officials and felt it was the best program because it’s free for the students. The school pays an annual fee of about $14,000 to cover the costs of Ivy Tech professors, but Schill said the school board always has approved it because the members see the value in the program.

Crothersville and Ivy Tech officials decided an associate degree in general studies would work best because regardless of what a student studies in college, all of the dual-credit classes they took in high school would count for something at the next level.

The program began at Crothersville six years ago, but those seniors couldn’t earn a degree. They only were able to earn some additional dual-credit courses to carry into college.

Since then, Crothersville and Austin students have been able to earn associate degrees.

The 2015-16 school year marked the first time sophomores could apply, giving students more time to earn their credits and not have to compact classes on top of their high school subjects.

This school year at Crothersville, nine sophomores, five juniors and 12 seniors participated in the program.

Applications are accepted after the school year starts. Students then have to pass the language arts and math portions of Ivy Tech’s ACCUPLACER entrance exam. If a student passes just one section, he or she can still take college classes and earn credits but won’t receive a degree. Instead, they would receive a technical certificate.

Ivy Tech’s pathway for the early college program requires a certain number of classes in language arts, math, social sciences and humanities. Then there are electives provided at Crothersville and Austin that students can take toward their college major. To earn credits, students have to earn a C or better.

“Everyone also must remember if a student enters the program and does not fully earn the degree, that is OK,” Schill said. “They will still have 50 to 60 college credits, earn Ivy Tech’s technical certificate and have credits that transfer to the college of their choice.”

Keeley Keasler, Seth Hoevener and Brett Lucas all said they started with the program during their junior year.

Keasler said she chose to do so for a couple of reasons.

“First, being the fact that education has always been a top priority to me, getting a jump-start on my college education and the fact that I could do this while currently still in high school was an amazing thought to me,” she said. “Second, the financial savings to my parents was amazing. It’s estimated students participating in this program save upwards of $30,000. There is no other program in the state of Indiana of its kind.”

Hoevener and Lucas both said they also wanted to earn college credits and a degree, and the financial savings was a huge factor, too.

“It was an incredible way to get a head start on my college career and help me pay for college,” Lucas said.

Taking the college-level classes on top of what’s required for high school was challenging for the three seniors.

Keasler said at first, it was overwhelming.

“I’m not going to lie, I was questioning myself if I had what it took to pass all my courses,” she said. “I was a high-schooler involved in many extracurricular activities and was afraid I might miss out on something because of homework and college responsibilities.”

But she said she was pleasantly surprised with how helpful the Ivy Tech professors were.

“Each did a fantastic job at giving us the extra attention we sometimes demanded,” Keasler said.

Hoevener and Lucas both said they were able to adapt, too.

“In the beginning, it was hard adjusting to the workload of both my normal high school courses plus my new college courses, but over time, I learned to balance both,” Hoevener said.

“Taking these classes on top of my high school classes was a lot of stress at first, but the farther I got into the program, the easier it became to be able to get into a rhythm and to complete my work and to get it done on time,” Lucas said.

They all realized it was time well-spent when they attended the Ivy Tech graduation.

“I honestly felt that is was unreal,” Keasler said. “All the hard work and hours dedicated to my homework and classes had finally paid off. Having my parents and grandparents there to watch me walk across that stage was a feeling I will never forget.”

Hoevener said it was a moment of relief.

“Finally getting that piece of paper laid in my hand was a feeling I will never forget,” he said.

Lucas said a lot was going through his mind that day.

“College graduation was a crazy time, but the biggest thing was how big this is since not many people get to do this and have this opportunity given to them,” he said.

Graduation also allowed the seniors to realize what they had accomplished together.

“I feel that the last two years have brought the 12 of us closer together,” Keasler said. “We shared many hours together studying for exams and working on projects. Some of that time was filled with tears, anxiety and most of all relief when we finished our final exams last week. Sharing those experiences with my fellow classmates created a strong bond between us all.”

Hoevener and Lucas both also felt it brought the students closer together.

“Going through this with classmates I have known a good chunk of my life was a great experience,” Lucas said. “We would help each other, encourage each other to do our work and also vent any of our frustrations about classes to each other.”

Keasler said she’s thankful Schill helped create, design and develop the early college program.

“It prepares the students on what to expect when going on to earn their bachelor’s degree,” she said. “The huge financial savings is such a blessing and relief to the students’ families. Secondary education is really expensive, and having two years of college paid for and out of the way is amazing.”

Hoevener said having an opportunity to earn a degree without any financial obligations is a plus.

“I now feel more prepared if I decide on pursuing my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I am extremely proud in completing my courses and being a part of this program.”

Lucas said it provides students with so many great opportunities.

“I am glad I can say that I graduated from Ivy Tech with an associate degree even before graduating high school. Not many people can say that,” he said. “Crothersville High School is a great school. I have had a great time here and have made many great memories.”

Even though Schill is retiring at the end of the school year, he said school leaders will continue to improve the program and look at more options for students to prepare them for the future.

“Being the chief architect of this program has been the greatest thrill and blessing of my career,” Schill said. “This program has the approval and support of our superintendent and board. It will continue to be a great advantage for our school corporation.”

At a glance

The 12 Crothersville High School seniors recently earning an associate degree in general studies from Ivy Tech Community College shared their postsecondary plans.

Name;Plans

Breanna Barger;Attend Hanover College and major in business

Katrina Christian;Attend Eastern Illinois University and major in communications and play basketball

Allison Davidson;Attend Ivy Tech Community College and major in radiology

Seth Hoevener;Undecided

Keeley Keasler;Attend Indiana University Southeast and major in nursing

Deven Lemen;Attend Hanover College and major in biology

Brett Lucas;Attend Indiana University Southeast and major in veterinary science

Hannah Ortman;Attend Hanover College

Madison Reynolds;Attend Hanover College

Brady Riley;Attend Indiana University Southeast and major in criminal justice

Brittany Ross;Attend University of Saint Francis and major in radiography and participate in track and field

Gabriella Walters;Attend Hanover College and major in biochemistry and premed

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.