Three will earn MCC degree before high school diploma!

McKenna Knock, Dan Lopez & Mahala DoyleIt’s not often that a high school student will earn a college degree before receiving his/her high school diploma, but three area seniors are on track to do just that. Mahala Doyle and McKenna Knock of South Tama County High School and Grace Bandstra of East Marshall High School will participate in the Marshalltown Community College graduation ceremony and receive their associate degrees before they graduate from high school this spring!

There’s a common misperception that students who earn a large number of college credits in high school “miss out” on the high school experience because they carry a heavy academic load … Mahala, McKenna and Grace are proof that such is not the case. Mahala has been active in cross country, color guard, marching band, concert band, track, golf, individual speech, National Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa, Thespian Society, student council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Blue Crew, Jerilyn School of Dance, and she has volunteered more than 100 hours. McKenna has been in individual speech, large group speech, St. Patrick’s youth group, Jung’s Taekwondo (she’s a 4th degree black belt), student council, volleyball, softball, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Thespian Society, Phi Theta Kappa, Blue Crew, National Honor Society, school plays, track, the School Improvement Advisory Committee, golf, HOBY Leadership Ambassador, and she has volunteered nearly 250 hours. Grace has been active in student government, student council, musicals, school plays, individual speech, large group speech, volleyball, basketball, golf, soccer, church theater productions, LeGrand Friends Church, Phi Theta Kappa, National Honor Society, football (manager), Fellowship of Christian Athletes, HOBY Leadership Ambassador, and she’s the East Marshall senior class president.

Grace BandstraAll three students began taking college credit classes as high school freshmen, and realized in their junior/senior years that with an extra push they could complete the MCC associate degree prior to high school graduation. Some of their college credit classes are offered at the high schools, some are at the MCC campus in Marshalltown, and some are online.

Through the high schools’ partnership agreements with MCC, the high schools pay the tuition and fees for college classes (at a reduced rate), which amounts to a savings of more than $12,000 for each of these three students.

“I wanted to challenge myself, and I’m glad I did,” says McKenna. “Not a lot of other high school classes interested me, but the college classes did. I thought I wanted to go into accounting as a career field, but I had an epiphany during my MCC microbiology classes … I even brought home some petri dishes to study, which was the coolest thing ever. I’m still waiting to decide what college to attend, but taking the MCC classes helped me realize that I want a career in science.”

Mahala is also using the MCC college credits as a “fast track” to her future career in real estate. By the end of fall term her junior year, she had completed only 11 college credits … she’s earned the other 53 credits in just a year and a half! “I’m currently working on a real estate license, but I can’t get it until I turn 18 in June,” she explains. “In addition to the college courses I’m taking real estate licensure courses in March, April and May. I plan to transfer my MCC credits to Iowa State University and get a degree in Agribusiness, which will enable me to incorporate farmland appraisals into my real estate career.”

Grace says her dad, a faculty member at MCC, was adamant that taking the college credits must not interfere with enjoying her high school years. “I took the ACT test in 8th grade and started taking Advanced Placement courses at that time,” says Grace. “East Marshall kind of ran out of things to offer me, so taking the MCC classes has enabled me to continue to be a full-time student through my senior year. My MCC grade point average is actually higher than my high school GPA, and I don’t feel I had to make any compromises to accomplish this.” Grace plans to transfer her MCC credits to the University of Northern Iowa and double-major in biology (with a biomedical emphasis) and English, and minor in public relations. Medical school is a possibility for her after UNI.

Dan Lopez, guidance counselor at STC, says he couldn’t be prouder of Mahala and McKenna for what they’ve accomplished, and for showing other STC students that it’s possible to complete the associate degree in high school. “Many STC students have come close to earning the associate degree in high school, but I’m proud of these two for being the first. They’ve set an example, and I think we’ll see many others following their path in the future.”

Lopez also credits Connie Gardalen (MCC Academic Advising Specialist and Coordinator of High School Relations) and Terri Hungerford (Intermediary Network Coordinator) with building the necessary relationships with high schools to benefit students in this manner. “Our relationship with these ladies and with MCC is phenomenal. They go above and beyond to take care of our kids with placement testing, FAFSA help, job shadowing opportunities and more.”

At East Marshall, Grace is following in the footsteps of Tyler Sawyer, who was the first EMHS student to earn his associate degree before high school graduation.

“High school students just have to decide what’s important and then do what it takes to set themselves up for long-term success,” says Grace. Mahala adds, “My advice is that high school students should start taking college credit classes as soon as they are ready. It’s a good way to explore lots of different topics.”

Gardalen says there are many benefits for high school students earning college credits. “It’s obviously a huge benefit for the students and their families that the high schools pay for these credits, but beyond that there are many other positives for the students. It gives them exposure to advanced topics that many can’t get in high school, it provides an opportunity to explore topics that may help students focus on specific career areas, and it shortens the amount of time they’ll spend in college, which helps to reduce potential student debt load and get them into the workforce sooner.”

“Mahala, McKenna and Grace are great examples of how academic planning and goal-setting can benefit high school students, and we’re very proud of their accomplishment,” says Gardalen. “We also want to congratulate the other 3,000 high school students in our area who are taking MCC college credit classes this year. They’re earning an impressive 8,889 college credits, which is simply amazing!”

Mahala is the daughter of Tim and Kira Doyle of Chelsea, McKenna is the daughter of Craig and Pam Knock of Toledo, and Grace is the daughter of Matt and Charity Bandstra of Marshalltown.