LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge
Not many high school students have to worry about choosing between attending their high school prom or their college graduation.
But this is the unusual fate of Olivia Williams, a senior at Stryker High School who will receive an associate of arts degree from Northwest State Community College on May 15 and her high school diploma two weeks later.
"My prom is the same day as my graduation at Northwest, so I really didn't want to go [to graduation], but my mom is making me," Miss Williams said.
The 18-year-old said she'll go to both events, but probably will be late for the prom.
She's been attending the community college full-time for the last two years as part of a state program allowing high school students to take college courses for free. And like only a handful of other students in the region, she's accumulated enough credits to graduate from college before her high school diploma is in hand.
Joining her for commencement at Northwest State, near Archbold, will be two other high school students. Terra Community College in Fremont counts four high school students among its spring graduates.
Officials at Owens Community College, with campuses in Perrysburg Township and Findlay, said they are not aware of any high school students who will graduate there this spring.
The reason some of these teenagers have taken college classes full time, making them high school students in name only, is simple.
"I just really didn't feel challenged in high school," said Marti Schlatter, a 17-year-old from Paulding High School who attends Northwest State.
While her high school report cards were full of As, at times they might as well have been Zs.
"I was kind of sleeping through my classes," she said. "Literally."
The answer, she found, was to take advantage of Ohio's post-secondary options program in which a student's school district and the state pay the costs of college courses. Michigan has had some form of the program in place for more than a decade.
In Ohio, 10,731 students took part in the program during the 2002-03 school year, the most recent year for which data was immediately available, according to the Ohio Department of Education. That's up from 2,406 a decade earlier.
But Ron Heitmeyer, area coordinator for the Ohio Department of Education, said it remains very rare for high school students to earn associate degrees, though it should increase with awareness of the program.
The vast majority of teens use the program for a class or two to get a head start on college, take advanced courses not offered at their high schools, and save money on tuition. A few, though, dive right in.
"A lot of it was just the fact that you get two years [of college] out of the way, and it's free, and it just seemed like a really good idea given how much college costs these days," said Miss Williams, who splits her days between school and working at the chiropractic clinic run by her parents. She plans on transferring to the University of Toledo in the fall, where she will pursue a bachelor's degree in global studies.
Jesse Groeneweg wanted to get a head start in his future professional field by studying computer-assisted drafting and machining at Northwest State before moving on to a university. He was homeschooled through his sophomore year of high school, when he enrolled at Archbold High School so that he could take part in the postsecondary options program.
The 18-year-old said he has enjoyed the college experience, but not without some initial trepidation.
"At first, I was really nervous," he said. "I'm kind of small for my age. It looks like there's a 12-year-old going to college."
Sharon Atkinson, a senior at Fremont Ross High School who will graduate from Terra on June 11, said she actually prefers the college atmosphere. The people in high school worry about a lot of silly things," she said.
As they approach their dual graduations, all of these students said they're happy they went through the experience, even if it meant less time with high school friends and activities.
"I just love college," Miss Schlatter said. "I'm not sleeping through my classes now. I feel challenged. I feel that I am making good use of my time."
And, she noted, "college is halfway over."
Contact Ryan E. Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6074.