High school students across middle Tennessee are graduating with associate degrees from Motlow State Community College before they ever even receive their high school diplomas. Motlow has more high school Dual Enrollment students than any college in Tennessee.

Through the dual enrollment program, Motlow specializes in making sure students get a tremendous early college experience. Juniors and seniors in high school can take college-level courses at their high school or a nearby Motlow campus.

Recently, 35 students from LaVergne High School graduated from high school with associate degrees in general studies from Motlow already in hand.

“This is a great partnership, and I am so thankful for this program,” said LaVergne High School Principal Theowauna Hatchett, a Motlow alumnus. She said this is the second year that the high school has offered the early college program, which had more than 40 graduates in its first year. “The program teaches them to take the initiative, ask questions, advocate for themselves, and how to communicate with adults because they are in a college classroom. It teaches them how to study and to help each other,” added Hatchett.

“LaVergne High School itself is really supportive and helped me with my application process. In addition, the dual enrollment program gave me insight into what to expect in college,” said recent graduate Rawand Aziz. Born in Kurdistan, Aziz is now headed to Princeton for pre-med. He wants to become an orthopedic surgeon and a philanthropist to give back to underserved locations in the Middle East.

Taking college courses while in high school is challenging and rewarding. LaVergne High School students started their days at their high school and were taken by bus to Motlow’s Smyrna campus for their college courses.

“It helped me with self-discipline,” recent graduate Ricky Martin, Jr., said of his experience with the program. He is going to New York University to study mechanical engineering. He is also interested in theater and acting but acknowledged that engineering was “a more practical option.”

The students work together and help each other through the process. Time management and communication were crucial for balancing high school, college, extracurriculars, and social lives.

“We had to rely on each other. No one else really understood what we were going through,” said LaVergne High School graduate Sarah Beshara, who will be attending Tennessee Tech in the fall to study biology and biochemistry. She plans to become a dentist after college. “The opportunity was worth it. I already have a great head start on my college education.”

“Everyone was together,” echoed Aziz. “Everyone was on both the giving and receiving end of helping each other at some point throughout the process.”

“It was hard sometimes,” said Paige Adekplor, a 2021 graduate of LaVergne High School. “It’s not something you take for an easy A. Being a college student on a high school schedule is difficult. So, we relied on each other for tutoring.”

Like Aziz, Adekplor was born outside of the United States. She moved from Togo when she was only two years old. Now, she is headed to Yale to study pre-med. She wants to be a pediatrician. But after writing a paper on Marbury vs. Madison for a political science class, she said she is also interested in law.

Additionally, seven students from Oakland High School also earned associate degrees in Mechatronics from Motlow. Dual enrollment is available at several high schools in middle Tennessee. Students interested in dual enrollment programs should speak with counselors at their high school to determine eligibility and learn more about the benefits of dual enrollment.

According to the Communications Director for Rutherford County Schools, James Evans, Rutherford County Schools plans to continue expanding these opportunities for high school students at multiple locations.

Dual enrollment courses are less expensive than traditional college courses. Students may even be able to take the college-level courses for free if they qualify for Tennessee’s Dual Enrollment Grant program. The Dual Enrollment Grant program is funded by the Tennessee Lottery and administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. This program provides opportunities for students to begin working toward a college degree while still pursuing a high school diploma. The grant provided by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation provides one grant per semester for tuition for high school juniors and seniors enrolled in college credit courses.

“College doesn’t always seem like an option for everyone because of the expenses associated with it,” said Beshara. “I was able to get started on college at a much more affordable rate and have a year and a half worth of college time already completed, immediately out of high school.”

“It is a cheaper way to get a degree, so you save time and money,” said Aziz.

Benefits of Dual Enrollment:

• Earn college credits with affordable tuition

• Save money by utilizing a dual enrollment grant, if eligible

• Broaden opportunities for academic challenges and expanded course selection

• Transition seamlessly from high school to college

• Get an early start to earning college credits or even a degree

• Research indicates that dual enrollment students are more likely to complete college degrees, and are more likely to progress to advanced degrees

Martin, Jr., admitted that he was at first intimidated by the dual enrollment program. But all of the students appreciated that it challenged them.

“I now hold myself to a higher standard and want to continue to improve myself as a person,” said Martin, Jr.

Now that they have graduated, the students are moving on to bigger and better things.

“Dual enrollment isn’t for everyone. It is a big commitment, but it is also rewarding,” Adekplor said. “It is made for people who want to achieve the end goal and who have a good work ethic.”

“It is a big decision, but it is an amazing opportunity to consider,” added Beshara.