Last week, three 21st Century Charter School students proudly walked in Ivy Tech’s graduation ceremony, earning Associate’s Degrees ahead of their high school diplomas, which will be awarded next month.

It takes a very dedicated student to graduate high school with 60 college credits, according to 21st Century Charter School Secondary Counselor Catisha Toney.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “It’s certainly not something everyone can do. We had our first student complete the program last year, so it is making a lot of students aware. They are asking about what they need to do to go to Ivy Tech. Our goal is for the whole graduating class to at least take some college credit.”

What’s known as the Middle College Program at 21st Century Charter School in Gary offers students the opportunity for dual enrollment with Ivy Tech Community College.

“Students receive college credit while earning their high school degrees,” Toney explained. “21st Century Charter School pays for books, tuition and transportation to and from the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Gary for all of our students. We pay for students to earn up to 60 college credits, enough for an Associate’s Degree.”

Students who qualify have the option to enroll in and take a combination of core high school courses and college courses for dual credit. Some classes are taught by 21st Century Charter School teachers or Ivy Tech faculty onsite, while others are available online or taken with other college students on Ivy Tech’s campus.

“One of the many goals of the dual credit program is to expose high school students to the rigor of having that experience as a college student,” Toney added. “It demystifies the college experience and gets them working toward their degrees. I’m here to be the advisor for this program. I stay in contact with Ivy Tech, the students and the parents. We want to map out a whole four-year plan based on what works best for each individual student.”

According to Ivy Tech Community College Northwest’s Regional Director of K-12 Initiatives at the Gary Campus Joe Arredondo, approximately 40 Northwest Indiana schools participate in the dual credit program, with around 10 using the Faculty on Loan option.

“We offer a couple of options when it comes to high school students getting grades on a college transcript,” he said. “For example, if high school teachers provide instruction at their school, the dual credit program is free. That’s the one everybody loves. Ivy Tech has saved Indiana residents a total of $20 million with our free dual credit program, with $1.7 million of that in Northwest Indiana alone.”

When courses are taken onsite with Ivy Tech Faculty on Loan, the fee is $2700 per class starting next year. Students who take online or campus-based classes pay regular Ivy Tech tuition are not treated any differently because they are high school students.

“Schools (like 21st Century Charter School) and/or students pay these fees,” Arredondo, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, added. “Not only do these classes fulfill high school requirements, a large percentage of them will meet the requirements for most degree programs, while the others can be used as electives. A recent example of a student who graduated with an Associate’s Degree entered Purdue University West Lafayette’s engineering program as a junior.”

Similarly, the current seniors at 21st Century Charter School will be able to apply the credits earned for their Associate’s Degree in general studies to their chosen degree programs. With 4.2 grade point averages, both Nyesha Canady and Shakira Burks have very specific plans for the future.

Believing the sky is the limit for her, Canady plans to major in Actuarial Science at Ball State University with the goal of working as an actuary in a Fortune 500 firm.

Burks, who has been juggling sports, cheerleading and other activities along with her academics feels very prepared time-management wise to pursue a degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the goal of going on to earn a Master’s degree and starting a nonprofit organization with a focus on teens being involved with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that will also tackle environmental issues.

Boasting a 3.5 grade point average, Bandy looks forward to majoring in Social Work at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis with the hope of working in an area where she can impact social welfare programs.

Next week, these three will be joining the other 31 graduating seniors at 21st Century Charter School for a special “College Signing Day” event.

“We’re small enough here to make sure our students get everything they need to be successful,” Toney said. “We’ve asked our seniors to wear something from the college they will be attending in the fall so we can celebrate them all.”

In addition to the dual credit success at 21st Century Charter School, Whiting High School also has four seniors earning extra honors this year. Jackson Cieceirski, Marcelo Lopez, Oscar Iniguez and Brett Gibbons all graduated from Ivy Tech with Technical Certificates in Industrial Technology. While these four intend to go on and complete their four-year degrees (they will be starting college with approximately one-fourth of the required 126 credit hours for graduation already complete), it’s important for others to see the many different doors this option can open for their future.

“The Industrial Technology degree is one of the most needed degrees in Northwest Indiana,” Arredondo said. “There is an immediate need for people to be workforce ready, and we’re having a hard time producing all the graduates employers need in our region.”

A couple of examples that require certain specialties of the one-year Industrial Technology degree at Ivy Tech include ArcelorMittal’s Steelworker for the Future program, BP Amoco and Praxair in Process Operations and NIPSCO in Energy Technology.

“Students who take on the academic rigor of college while in high school have been shown to be more successful when it comes to finishing a two-year degree and then going on to complete a four-year degree,” Arredondo added. “The dual credit program is a great jumpstart for the future when students are 17-18 years of age. We all know as adults how difficult it is to know what you want to do with your life. These programs give them options. When you consider that ArcelorMittal and NIPSCO tell us that over half of their technical workforce is eligible to retire, we need young people to be responding to that need.”

Across the state, Ivy Tech reports that 383 high schools and career centers have a direct relationship with the college this year, up from 366 last school year.

“The popularity of the dual credit program just continues to grow,” Arredondo said.