Today, the graduating seniors of Moffat County High School will stride across the stage, collect their diplomas, and toss their caps skyward.
For six of those students, however, the ceremony may seem like old hat. They will arrive at their high school graduation having already earned college degrees.
MCHS Counselor Paula Duzik explained.
“Every year we have some students who get their associate’s (degrees) before they graduate,” she said. “It takes a really special student to be able to do it. It takes a lot of time and dedication.”
In addition to the six recipients of associate’s degrees, the high school will also graduate four students who earned college-level certificates in cosmetology and automotive technology.
This year, MCHS seniors Mandi Ellgen, Austin Lee, Jessica Matthews, Mike Miller and Lauren Roberts earned associate’s of science degrees; Kye Adams earned an associate’s degree in power plant technology; Chance Peterson and Tyler Smercina earned certificates in automotive technology; and Jentry Cattoor and Shey Ellis earned certificates in cosmetology.
Some of the college-level classes were offered at the high school, others at Colorado Northwestern Community College. Duzik said it’s normal for MCHS students to earn some college-level credits.
“I would say the average graduate, if they’re a college-bound student, probably leaves Moffat County High School with 30 to 40 college credits,” she said.
To earn an associate’s degree, however, students need to attend four or five classes at CNCC. The added courses require a lot of planning and hard work from students, Duzik said.
This year’s number of college-educated high school seniors is surprising for two reasons.
First, earning college credentials while also navigating high school is an achievement worthy of note. But, perhaps more surprising, is all 10 students have plans to attend four-year college programs.
Why pile on extra courses, assignments and stress in high school when college is already a foregone conclusion?
Ellgen said the decision was practical.
“It saves a lot of time and a lot of money,” she said.
This fall, Ellgen plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She plans to major in neuroscience and eventually go on to medical school to become a neurologist.
By earning her associate’s in high school, Ellgen said she’ll reach her objective much sooner.
“I don’t have to take any of my generals — my university’s core generals (classes),” she said. “As soon as I get to college, I can go straight to my major.
“It’s saving me a lot of money in tuition and housing.”
Duzik said most MCHS graduates with associate’s degrees follow that same path.
“Usually when a student has an associate’s degree, they take that whole degree as a package and apply it as their first two years of college,” she said.
But that’s not always the case. For Matthews, the college courses were about getting her feet wet.
This fall, Matthews will attend the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. She plans to major in civil engineering and minor in humanitarian engineering.
“You can go in as a junior if you choose to keep all your credits,” she said. “I’m not going to use all my credits. I’m going to re-take a lot of my math and sciences. But, I don’t have to take English. English was probably a lot easier here than it is there.”
Miller, who will also attend Colorado School of Mines for engineering, said he pursued the associate’s degree for kicks.
“Me? I did it just ‘cause,” he said. “I’m going to re-take all my classes, but this way at least I’ll somewhat know what I’m talking about.”
Adams, who received a degree in power plant technology, described his interest as “Plan B.”
“Plan A is to go to Black Hills State University in South Dakota to get my degree in physical education,” he said.
Peterson, who earned a certificate in automotive technology, said the CNCC program was robust enough that he could be employed as a mechanic as early as June. However, he has a different goal in mind.
“I plan on furthering my education by going to Wyoming Tech next year,” he said.
Even the two students who earned certificates in cosmetology have few plans to utilize their training in a long-term career capacity. For Cattoor, the certificate will help her pay the bills while earning a four-year degree in art.
Ellis, who also has plans for a four-year art school, said the cosmetology degree provides a foundation for her eventual goal of becoming a tattoo artist.
Lee, who earned an associate’s degree in science, said she plans to attend BYU-Idaho for nursing. Although nursing is offered at CNCC, and she already has CNCC credits under her belt, Lee said she wants to challenge herself.
“I didn’t want to stay here,” she said. “I feel like I’m really tied to my family and close and stuff, but I really just need to find out if I can do it on my own, so that’s why I’m going so far away.”
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