October 01, 2022

Diploma and degree

“I know 50 years ago, I took an advanced placement math course and was thrown in with the sophomores as a freshman at Iowa State and struggled,” said Southwestern Community College (SWCC) board of trustees Vice President Fred Shearer. “I mean, I was not stupid, but I struggled.”

The conversation was sparked at their Tuesday meeting after Shearer saw four students who will be graduating with an associate degree at the same time they receive their high school diploma.

“It’s wonderful that we offer the advanced placement and college credits, but I’m wondering how these four students, if they’re in fact going to a four-year school, how they’re going to fit into a campus as a junior when they are 18, 19 years old,” he said. “It’s great that we’re doing this, but I hope we’re not doing a disservice to some kids who are not mature enough to handle a four-year school as an 18 year old.”

Vice President of Instruction Lindsay Stoaks said planning begins very early in high school for students choosing to pursue the completion of a degree in tandem with their high school diploma.

“The planning is very intentional and centered around the student’s higher education and career goals,” she said.

Rachel Ramaeker, SWCC’s director of secondary programs, works to maintain strong partnerships with all 16 high schools in the college’s service area across southwest and south central Iowa.

“The strong collaboration between Southwestern and its high school counselors and high school administrators allows for multiple advising opportunities with students,” Stoaks said. “These advising meetings play a critical role in assisting students to understand the rigor and expectations associated with enrolling in college-level coursework. Students who choose to enroll in dual-credit courses must also meet enrollment deadlines and orientation requirements to successfully begin their semester.”

This fall, SWCC added Chelsie Miller as an academic transition advisor. She will assist advising onsite at each one of the high schools in the college’s service area.

While SWCC President Dr. Marjorie McGuire-Welch said the four students are more of the anomaly, Stoaks said there are benefits to to college coursework being completed during high school.

“Research indicates joint enrollment opportunities ease the transition of students from secondary to post-secondary education,” Stoaks said. “Students who participate in joint-enrollment are more likely to graduate high school, immediately enroll in college, have higher college grade point averages and persist to completion compared to their peers.”

Readiness factors include a student’s progress toward high school graduation, attendance, self-advocacy and the ability to responsibly communicate with college faculty and student services.

“That’s something that counselors and parents also struggle with, and have to make that judgment call, is really the level of maturity,” McGuire-Welch said. “It’s not for every child, that’s for sure.”

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.