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What's it like to Graduate from College before You Finish High School?

Six high school seniors graduated from Community College of Philadelphia on May 5–and, in an unusual twist, they received their first college degree before they officially earned a high school diploma.

The students, all seniors from the Mathematics, Science and Technology (MaST) Community Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia, are the first MaST cohort to complete the MC2 dual enrollment program, dividing their day between high school classes, online classes and college-level courses at the College’s Northeast Regional Center.

They began college as high school sophomores after completing entrance exams and have taken about 60 credits to earn an Associate in Arts degree in Business. On May 5, they were among the 1,885 candidates for degrees and certificates in the Class of 2018.

“I would love to see every high school student have an early college experience of some sort,” said Dr. David E. Thomas, associate vice president for strategic initiatives and dean of the Division of Access and Community Engagement. “We want high school students to be able to dip their toes into the rigors of college life.”

All high achievers with serious ambitions, the MaST students are on track to complete their undergraduate education in two more years, positioning them to finish a baccalaureate degree by the age of 20. They graduate from MaST on June 15 with ceremonies at Holy Family University.

“They are extremely motivated,” said MaST Chief Executive Officer John F. Swoyer III, describing the students as leaders involved in many activities, clubs and sports at MaST. “They aren’t going to wait for the future. They are going to take on the future right now.”

Swoyer said the students gained maturity and time management skills and appreciated the opportunity to save money on their college educations, since they are already about half way to a bachelor’s degree. “It saves them the cost of carrying those credits at college prices,” he said.

This initiative is just one of the programs underway at the College designed to increase the pipeline of talent flowing from Philadelphia high schools to the College. This year, for example, marked the opening of Parkway Center City Middle College, with the entire class of ninth graders from what was once known as Parkway Center City High School beginning to take courses on Main Campus. That cohort of high school students is on track to earn associate degrees or credentials by the time they graduate from high school.

Research shows that high school students who attend college classes are more likely to enroll in college and remain there. Through its dual enrollment programs, Community College of Philadelphia provided a record number of high school students with access to college classes this year, with 1,433 students earning 6,791 credits in the 2017-2018.ng semesters.

MaST's soon-to-be college graduates are tired, but happy. They will be the first to tell you they’ve done their fair share of homework these past two years – assigned by college faculty and high school teachers.

"When our principal told us we were going to get our associate degrees before we graduate from here, I said, `WOW!,'"  Selwin Varughese, 18, said. The classes he took at the College helped him to expand his career choices as he shifted from engineering to business, which he'll study at Temple University next year. Varughese has a 3.72 grade point average from the College.

Carrying a grade point average of 3.93, Sabrina Fiocca, 18, plans to major in biology at Temple University, heading next to medical school. "I'm more prepared for college. I know how the classroom works and how the assignments are," she said. "This is like training wheels for college."

Carson Lo, 18, a future engineer inspired by the possibility of exploring Mars, is trying to decide between Pennsylvania State University and Drexel University. He appreciated the opportunity to study business, since he wouldn't likely have room on his college engineering roster for those courses. "It's sort of like a double major," said Lo, who has a 3.94 grade point average.

Anthony Rodriguez, 18, who earned a 3.37 grade point average and plans to major in computer science at Millersville University, said he liked the intellectual challenge and pace of the college courses, compared to high school classes. "The things we learned were more applicable to our lives," he said.

Mackenzie Schoen, 17, with a 3.94 grade point average, is advising her younger sister at MaST to try MCinstead of pursuing Advanced Placement courses.  Scoring well in AP exams may result in credits for a few courses, but the MCprogram, she said, provides an associate degree. "You get more out it," she said. Schoen plans to major in computer science at Temple.

"At first it was really scary," said Savannah Zazulak, 18. "But as time went on, I learned to balance things and manage my time. Whenever I had a hurdle, I'd talk to my parents and they'd remind me that this program was so worth it and every ounce of stress and energy is going to really help me in the end. Now I'm really seeing that." A future pediatrician, Zazulak, who earned a 3.17 grade point average, will enroll in Bryn Athyn College's pre-med program.