MALTA – Anthony Castaldo began taking college-level courses as a sophomore at Paw Paw High School accruing more than 50 credit hours toward general education requirements.
After graduating high school this spring, Castaldo, 19, will graduate from Kishwaukee College this fall with an associate's degree, thanks to a program dubbed "2 Degrees in 3 Years." The program is a collaborative effort between Kishwaukee College, Northern Illinois University, and area school districts, with 650 students participating so far.
"Originally I wanted to go far away at first, like many young people do," Castaldo said Monday at Kish college. "But over the path of taking dual credit and dual enrollment, and staying local, I've definitely just gained more insight into how much money that saved me, and the time aspect."
After earning his associate's degree, Castaldo will transfer to NIU in the spring to begin working toward a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Three years after graduating high school, he'll have two college degrees.
The program is available at DeKalb, Genoa-Kingston. Hiawatha, Indian Creek, Rochelle Township and Sycamore high schools. It allows teachers with a masters degree in their field of instruction the option to offer courses that count for college credit.
Both NIU and Kish posted lower-than-normal fall enrollment numbers this year. Illinois has become one of the leading exporters of college-bound high school students to other states; a March report by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that found about half of Illinois high school graduates leave to attend out-of-state colleges and universities.
Laurie Borowicz, president of Kishwaukee College, said the accelerated study program specifically encourages local high school students to pursue higher education close to home.
"We are proud to partner with our district high schools and [NIU] to show students and parents the many opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school," Borowicz said.
Students who earn a 3 or higher (out of four) on an Advanced Placement test can use that course for credit, too.
"Where we found that the dual-credit courses have such an impact are for those students that say 'I'm not sure I'm college material,' " Jamie Craven, superintendent at DeKalb-based District 428, said. "We're giving students the opportunity in a protected cocoon if you will, to attempt that college work while they're in high school."
He also noted that the program can be tailored to each school district.
Lisa Freeman, president of NIU, echoed Borowicz's comments and said she hopes the program will improve the county's workforce.
"It's important that we continue to work together to keep local talent local because a vibrant future for DeKalb County depends on our ability to attract and retain educated young adults who seek to raise their families and start their professional lives here," Freeman said.