Seven Crothersville seniors earn associate degrees

CROTHERSVILLE — Six girls and one boy from the Crothersville High School Class of 2023 recently accomplished a feat that will help them as they move forward in life.

And they did it before receiving their high school diploma.

On May 13, Kendall Berry, Meagan Bush, Elliana Collman, Cole Reed, Pearl Shirley, Carlee Walker and Morgan Womack wore caps and gowns while participating in Ivy Tech Community College’s graduation at Columbus North High School. Each of them earned an associate degree in general studies for completing The University Academy.

As sophomores, they took advantage of the unique opportunity to start taking college-level courses. They continued that their junior and senior years and met all of the requirements to walk across the stage for a college diploma while still in high school.

The program began at Crothersville 12 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, students at Crothersville and Austin high schools have been able to earn an associate degree in general studies from Ivy Tech at no cost.

Dual credit courses are taught by qualified high school teachers and Ivy Tech professors, and earning the degree results in students spending a year or two less and saving thousands of dollars in pursuing a higher college degree.

The program was known as the Austin Crothersville Early College Initiative until changing to The University Academy in recent years.

Reed, who has attended Crothersville since he was in preschool, said he’s grateful to attend a school that offers such a unique program.

“Going out of high school with my associate degree, that’s just amazing,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic. You just get free college completely paid for. It was a no-brainer for me to do that.”

Considering the college courses were taken in addition to high school classes and extracurricular activities, Reed said it was a little bit of a challenge.

“I definitely just memorized the dates when I had to get things in by, just kind of worked on it whenever I could,” he said. “I think I balanced it pretty well. Just keeping track of dates helped a lot.”

Berry transferred to Crothersville her sophomore year solely to take the early college program.

“College is expensive, and this is two free years of college that transfers almost everywhere,” she said.

She also noted it was a challenge.

“As a high-schooler balancing my high school classes with my college classes, my high school teachers were really lenient on it,” she said. “They definitely gave me time to work on stuff that I needed to work on because they are not easy classes. They are college-level classes, and as a sophomore in high school, you are not prepared for that, so they just kind of throw you to the wolves, and we were struggling.”

Fortunately, the seven students could rely on each other to get through it.

“We work as a team so well together because we’re all in the same boat, we all have the same work to do, so I think working as a group definitely helped me get through that,” Berry said. “We worked together a lot on everything because everyone has their own strengths, so everyone helped each other.”

Reed agreed.

“That was a huge part of doing early college. We were all helping each other with stuff that needed to be done,” he said.

At their high school graduation May 26, the seniors will all know each other. But at the Ivy Tech graduation, they didn’t know anyone except for their classmates.

“It was different, a little bit nervous with all of the people there,” Reed said but noted it was fun to celebrate the accomplishment with his classmates.

Berry said it was an amazing experience.

“I never thought I’d make it that far because there were some classes that really doubted me for a little bit, but I never thought I’d be able to graduate with my associate degree before I graduated high school,” she said. “It’s so surreal to me. It’s just money savings. … College is very expensive, so having two years out of my way that was free, I’ll take it any day of the week.”