Valerie Mackie, of Soldotna, graduated high school and got her associate's degree at the same time.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Graduating high school is a big accomplishment. Graduating college is even more so. So how then would you describe someone graduating from both in the same month?
“Terrific,” according to Gary Turner, director of Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna.
“We have a couple of them from time to time,” he said of students like Valerie Mackie, 18, of Soldotna, who graduated from KPC with her associate’s degree May 10 and followed it up by graduating from high school last week.
“Most kids take a couple of classes as a junior or a senior, but I started as a freshman,” she said.
Mackie is an Interior Distance Education of Alaska home-school student. She said this program allowed her the freedom to get an early start on college life.
“I was the youngest person in my classes for quite a while. People were always amazed to find out I was 14 when I started taking classes,” she said.
Mackie said the choice to start college while still in high school was hers.
“If anything it’s been me pushing it. My parents are supportive, but a lot of what they would tell me would be to slow down and enjoy the life of a high school student,” she said.
Mackie did her best to oblige them. She took a semester off and took part in immersion trips travelling abroad, but then she returned to KPC to continue life as a collegiate.
“It was just such a great experience. I was able to take a lot of classes I wouldn’t have been able to take in high school, like intro to justice, which I loved,” she said.
That class helped her decide what direction she wanted to follow in school and life. She continued pursuing law-related classes at KPC and said, “Now my plan is to go to law school, so I’m headed to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to get my baccalaureate degree.”
Mackie said more high school students should consider taking advantage of the opportunity to pursue college classes, but those who do should understand the commitment involved.
“It’s college-level concepts and work, and you’re surrounded by adults. Not all kids are ready for that, but for me it was good,” she said.
People close to Mackie don’t seem surprised by her accomplishment.
“She’s proven to be one of the most outstanding young people with whom I’ve worked,” said Nancy Veal, a 4-H youth development agent who worked closely with Mackie for several years.
“Valerie is true to her word and she’s the type of person that says, ‘I’m going to do something,’ and then she does it. And when she commits to a job, there is no need to remind her about it or worry that it won’t be accomplished. She is focused and organized in her pursuits.”
Mackie’s accomplishment is all the more remarkable because in addition to balancing high school and college life, she also managed to work full time as a deck hand at her family’s charter fishing business, and she commits many hours to community service projects, Veal said.
“Her graduating college before high school is a testimony to her ability and commitment to education,” Veal said.
Turner said students like Mackie are what he hoped for when the dual enrollment program was developed, and he would like to see more teens take advantage of it.
He said students who do opt to dual enroll can not only save themselves and their parents money roughly $11,000 to $18,144 for one year of college but they also can increase their odds of succeeding scholastically.
“High school students that take dual-credit courses gain the confidence they need to succeed in college since they are in a supportive and familiar environment. They can get that first year of college and (general education requirements) out of the way while being surrounded by mom and dad, their friends and what they know,” he said.
Turner said KPC is ideal for high school students from small communities.
“Our teacher to student ratio is typically 1 to 12, so they learn better and aren’t overwhelmed like at some of the bigger schools where there may be a ratio of 1 to 500 in some of the intro classes. That can be overwhelming to a new college student, and once some of them get that bad taste, they may never come back,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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