Chicago-area high schoolers 1st in suburbs to earn 2 degrees

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ELGIN, Ill. (AP) Ten suburban Chicago high school students are the first in the area to simultaneously earn their high school diplomas and associate degrees.

The students received their degrees from Elgin Community College this month, the Daily Herald reported.

The scholars were part of Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300's Accelerate College program. The program permits eligible students to take a full year of college classes tuition-free at ECC while checking in at their high schools on a weekly basis.

"It's very exciting," District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said. "They are getting their college diplomas at the same time they are graduating high school, tuition-free, which is a huge savings for families. The program taught them how to be successful in a traditional college classroom."

District 300's Accelerated College program led to a 2016 state law permitting Illinois high school students to receive college credit while in high school, in a move to make college tuition more affordable.

Community college districts can now freely enter into Accelerate College alliances with any school district within their boundaries. The coursework that high school students complete in community college can be transferred to Illinois' public universities.

Elgin Area School District U-46, the second-largest school district in Illinois, has joined other suburban school districts by following District 300's example.

The district pays around $8,000 annually per student enrolled full time at ECC, which the same costs to teach them in high school. Heid said that families are only required to pay for books.

Anna Yessica Tello, 18, a senior at Jacobs High School in Algonquin, studied political science at ECC. She said her toughest adjustments were time management and adapting to the expectations of different teachers.

Through the program, she learned to be self-sufficient, manage her time prudently, and cultivate social, organizational and "many more skills that I didn't realize I was lacking in," Tello said.

Heid said he anticipates the program's enrollment to increase next school year. There were 59 students enrolled this school year, but up to 90 can join. Officials expect 21 graduates to earn their ECC associate degrees next spring.

"Right now, the only obstacle that we run into for growth is transportation," said Heid adding, the district might consider busing juniors who don't drive to ECC for classes four days a week.

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Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com

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