A decision to take dual enrollment college credits during high school means at least a bigger paycheck after graduation for Brian Markum.
Markum is one of four 2005 Moffat County High School graduates who will cross the high school stage Saturday with a degree as well as a diploma.
"I don't think that half the students really know," Markum said about his earning a two-year associates degree in CISCO computer certification while attending high school.
But the push will pay off for the 18 year old. Markum, who is joining the Air Force after graduation, is entering with seniority. It means he'll start making about $300 a month extra in pay.
"It feels like I'm taking a step toward something bigger," he said.
Three other high school seniors also are set to graduate high school with two-year college degrees in hand from Colorado Northwestern Community College. They are Klava Caras, Nicole McIntyre and Krista Frazier.
Frazier said taking classes for high school and college was difficult for the first semester. After that, she said the college course load was attainable by staying focused. That's partly because college dual enrollment classes are fewer but more intense than high school classes.
"As long as you stay focused, it's OK," she said.
Frazier has plans to get a bachelor's degree at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She wants to get an emphasis in human resources.
This year marks the first that several graduates have earned enough credits to receive associate degrees, Moffat County High School counselor Paula Duzik said. Jared Kipe was the only other student to complete the feat when he graduated in 2003.
"It takes a special kind of kid to do this," Duzik said. "They have to be more willing and want to get it done."
Students who plan to earn associate degrees in high school have to start taking classes in the summer after their sophomore years and often have to take summer classes in the ensuing years to bridge the gaps. Students also often have to take night classes, in addition to day classes at the high school. However, an increasing number of students are taking dual enrollment classes either to graduate from high school or get ahead on college work, college officials have said.
Although Markum has a 2-year academic jump on most of his peers, he's still eager to participate in high school graduation.
"I'm kind of excited about graduating," he said. "There were a couple of times when it was hard, but I knew it would be worth it."