It takes a special kind of student to earn an associate’s degree – sometimes two associate’s – before a high school diploma.
Yvonne Carpenter, Hobbs Municipal School’s Early College academic advisor, said the 11 Hobbs High School students who did just that earlier this month are committed, disciplined and mature beyond their years.
As examples, she points to teenagers like Breanna Garcia, Edwin Avila and Erick Acosta, who each received associate degrees in science AND arts from New Mexico Junior College a week before their HHS commencement.
“They were able to successfully balance being a high school student and a college student,” Carpenter said of the trio who each earned two degrees. “It really showed their maturity and the fact that they are perfect for this kind of program.”
HHS students begin classes as Hobbs Dual Credit Academy (HDCA) enrollees at the start of their junior year. But they first must complete competency tests as sophomores, write an essay, get the endorsement of two teachers and submit an application that includes their parents’ permission. A counseling committee and Carpenter look over the application packets, then notify sophomores in April about whether they’ve been accepted. Three dozen HHS juniors and seniors were enrolled in this year’s HDCA program and 55 have been admitted to the academy for the 2019-20 school year.
“We’re looking for students who are competent, show commitment to their education and have a good work ethic,” Carpenter explained. “They basically are going to enter the program as 15- or 16-year-old college freshmen.”
Another requirement for HDCA success is energy. Lots of it.
Garcia, for instance, was a drum major in the HHS marching band while attending NMJC on a full-time basis, Acosta, a member of the HHS SkillsUSA chapter, was elected statewide president of SkillsUSA. And Avila was a Taskervitch member who also held down a part-time job while attending college.
Although their reasons for applying to the HDCA vary, the outcomes for Garcia, Avila and Acosta are the same. Each has a 60 to 64-credit head start on college classes.
“One of the main reasons I applied is because of the thousands of dollars it saved my family,” said Avila, a first-generation college student who considered himself more mature than his sophomore classmates a couple years ago.
“I was pretty serious about school,” Acosta agreed. “My parents taught me that to get ahead in life, you have to do good in school.”
And the fact that the three paid nothing for college was another huge benefit. HDCA covers the cost of all tuition, books and school fees meaning the students’ only out-of-pocket expense is the gas it took them to drive to school each day.
Acosta said finances were an important consideration when it came to making the decision to juggle high school SkillsUSA classes and college prerequisites. During his junior and senior years, Acosta – as did Garcia – attended one class on the HHS campus and spent the rest of his time at NMJC.
“As far as I can remember, my family struggled so this was a head start for me without having to put a burden on my family,” said the 17-year-old who hopes to now transfer to the University of New Mexico and eventually enter law school.
Garcia said she was unfamiliar with HDCA when her mom convinced her to apply as a sophomore. But the fact that she was able to knock two years off her college requirements means she’s now on schedule to receive a Texas Tech bachelor’s degree in nursing before her 21st birthday. Garcia moved to Lubbock this week as part of that next step in her occupational goal.
While she was still in school, Garcia met monthly with Carpenter to insure she was keeping up in her studies and taking courses that aligned with Tech’s degree plan. Carpenter, a former HHS English teacher, performed the same service for the rest of the HDCA students including graduates who will attend the University of Oklahoma, New Mexico State University or a variety of other local colleges. Carpenter’s background was a bonus, Avila added, because she helped him out with some of his English assignments.
Their most difficult college experience, all three agree, was mastering an online platform that students were required to learn in order to receive email communications from professors or submit written assignments. Typing is one of their new skills that will now serve them well as they continue with their education.
“Going to school like this gives you a kind of insight into what it’s like going into the real world after high school,” Avila said, adding that his plan is to return to NMJC to earn credits for a criminal justice degree and eventually join the police force.
“You have to be more independent,” agreed Garcia, a Phi Theta Kappa member who graduated from New Mexico Juniors College with honors. “A lot of the professors will tell you you’re not in high school anymore. It’s up to you to complete your daily and weekly assignments. They aren’t going to babysit you.”
While she’s not a babysitter, Carpenter said she enjoys guiding her students for the two years they spend in HDCA. “They come in as high school students and you watch them grow through the semesters,” the academy director said. “They really grow in maturity and independence and time management. It’s great to see them go from being a high school kid to a young college student.”