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CCP students take fast track at RCC, earn associate degree

Uwharrie Charter Academy senior Daryn Trogdon, left, and Southwestern Randolph High School senior Ben Cross were the first students from Randolph Community College’s Career and College Promise program to earn their associate degrees before graduating from their respective high schools.
Uwharrie Charter Academy senior Daryn Trogdon, left, and Southwestern Randolph High School senior Ben Cross were the first students from Randolph Community College’s Career and College Promise program to earn their associate degrees before graduating from their respective high schools.

ASHEBORO — The last two years of high school can be pretty busy with homework, prom, more homework, tennis practice, more homework, part-time job, even more homework, so what’s a few college courses added to the mix? In fact, by the time those two years are done, you may just have a college degree to show for the effort.

Southwestern Randolph High School senior Ben Cross and Uwharrie Charter Academy senior Daryn Trogdon walked in Randolph Community College’s Curriculum Graduation on May 8, both earning Associate in Arts degrees before they graduate from high school. The duo was able to accomplish the feat thanks to the Career and College Promise program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to either earn an employable credential if they plan to enter the workforce or to take general education courses they will need at the university level. Cross and Trogdon are the first CCP students to graduate from RCC.

“The program is really designed to help students earn up to one year of college credit and these two students really took on what most high school students do over two years,” RCC Director of Educational Partnerships & Initiatives Isai Robledo said. “They did it in one year in 11th grade and that allowed them the opportunity to move on and take the remaining courses needed for an associate degree during a high school senior year.”

What Cross and Trogdon accomplished also differs from Randolph Early College High School (RECHS), which spreads an associate degree over four year.

Cross was inspired by his older sisters, one of whom attended RECHS and the other was in the CCP program for one year. He also got a nudge from his mom, Nancy, who is the Director of Career and Technical Education for the Randolph County School System.

“For a long time I was stuck trying to decide between the early college and Southwest because I wanted to play sports, but I wanted to do the two years like my sister did,” said Cross, noting he was a three-sport athlete in eighth grade. “I went to Southwest and chose sports. My mom suggested I do this.”

Trogdon, the oldest of seven, also saw his mom as the inspiration to get his two-year degree.

“Since I was 10 or 11 years old, I’ve always been in competition with my mom,” he said. “She has her master’s degree in Business Administration. I want to get my PhD in leadership. She got her education and works hard — 48-50 hours a week. She always made sure we got up and got to church at 8:30 every Sunday morning. That’s all she’s ever cared about.

“[CCP] was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. When Isai came to talk, I was interested, but I wasn’t thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to finish my two-year degree.’ I had a friend who went [to RCC]. We decided to do this. I didn’t really want to go to the early college. I didn’t have any interest in not experiencing the actual high school — they don’t have sports.”

Of course, it wasn’t easy. Cross is a member of the Cougars’ varsity tennis team that saw several members, including Cross, advance to regional action. He also works at The Dream Center, usually until 6:30 p.m.

“I wouldn’t have done it without my mom,” Cross said. “She worked here as a liaison for a while, and had a good idea of what was going on.”

Trogdon, meanwhile, is moving up the chain of command at Shoe Department, and also plays sports.

“I’m a little busy, but I kind of like it,” he said. “That’s my personality — I’m always on the go everywhere.”

So why go through all of that stress?

“Through this program, they are able to have the traditional high school experience — prom, homecoming, sports, pep rallies, all of that — while also getting some college credits under their belt before they graduate,” Robledo said.

Not only that, but the tuition is waived by the state of North Carolina, and RCC waives any fees, leaving the students and families with textbook and transportation as their only expenses. All three public school systems — Asheboro City Schools, the Randolph County School System, and Uwharrie Charter Schools — offer to pay for textbooks. The program also is open to homeschoolers and students in private schools.

“Fortunately for them, they had the support of their high schools, so when it came to scheduling there was a lot of flexibility on the high school side,” Robledo said. “Most public school students are only available to attend classes here in the afternoons. For these students, they would sometimes come here in the morning, go there for second or third period, and come right back. They took some online classes as well. It just took a lot of creative scheduling.

“Any time you build your schedule, you’re putting a puzzle together and you factor in a high school class or classes and then sports and away games and part-time jobs — it’s a lot. Both Daryn and Ben had a great balance of face-to-face and online courses to be able to make that happen.”

Despite their hectic schedules, both Cross and Trogdon said the experience was one they would choose again — and they are now more than ready for the next step.

“It was super positive,” Cross said. “Being able to make my own schedule. Getting ready for that part of college. Getting used to the schedules. It’s been different, but I really liked it. I preferred it much more over high school classes. You just have to figure it out with your high school counselor and get the classes in the right spots.

“I liked the face-to-faces. I only had three face-to-face [courses], but I just enjoyed those more.”

“Being able to have the flexibility in high school was something I never would have imagined as a freshman,” Trogdon said. “More so than just the classes and being in the college atmosphere worked me toward having a flexible schedule and being able to manage my time. A lot of times you have kids who go to college and they have all this time on their hands, and they don’t do it the right way.

“It was just awesome — to give me the opportunity to start with, but then to teach me, ‘Here’s how you make a schedule.’ ... Giving me that atmosphere that I would experience in college anyway, but now, is going to help me so much in college.”

Both Cross and Trogdon will attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the fall. Cross is looking to study biochemistry as he plans to attend medical school in psychiatry. Trogdon plans on the Business Administration track, double-majoring in communications and accounting with a minor in Spanish.

“Getting my two-year degree out of the way gave me the flexibility to do those things,” Trogdon said. “I can still spend four, six years there, but be getting more than just the accounting. I don’t see a point in going in and changing your major four times freshman year. You can work toward it quicker if you have it set. I pan on finishing my masters in three or four years instead of six.”

RCC’s program, which has been around since 2012, offers three pathways to students — the College Transfer Pathway, the Career Technical Education Pathway, and Articulated Credit. College Transfer provides tuition-free course credits toward the Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degree that will transfer opt any public or participating private college or university. Career Technical Education allows students to earn tuition-free course credits at RCC toward a job credential, certificate, or diploma in a technical career. Articulated Credit allows students to receive college credit after the completion of CTE courses in high school.

“We try to target all 10th graders — private, public, homeschool,” Robledo said. “We really try to work with those first-generation college students who — no one in their family has gone to college before or they have this belief that college is financially out of their reach. We come in and say, ‘This is free,’ and it really changes students’ perspectives toward, ‘Wow. I am ready for college. I can handle college. I already have an employable credential, or I already have a semester or a year under my belt.’ It helps change the belief that higher education is extremely expensive.”

Robledo said RCC’s CCP program soon will eclipse 1,000 students enrolled in the program with 25 or more aiming for an RCC degree.

“I totally see these two students helping open up the opportunity for others,” Robledo said. “Because they have proven that it’s possible. Daryn juggled multiple part-time jobs. They had quite a bit on their plates and they proved to their peers and convinced their counselors that this is possible.”

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