Steamboat student graduates high school early with a college degree | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat student graduates high school early with a college degree

Whitney Couchoud receives her associate degree from Colorado Mountain College. A Steamboat Springs High School graduate, she is the first to earn her associate and graduate high school a year early.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When 17-year-old Whitney Couchoud heads to University of Colorado Boulder in August, she will begin her college career as a junior.

Couchoud earned her associate's of arts degree from Colorado Mountain College at the same time she was finishing high school, as a participant in the state's Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act, or CEPA.

Not only will she be younger than most of the juniors, she'll be younger than most of the freshmen. Last weekend, Whitney graduated from Steamboat Springs High School a year ahead of schedule.

"I've always been a person who likes to make my own timeline," Whitney said. “I want to go at my own pace.”

She was in eighth grade when she made her plan to earn her degree — inspired by an older student who was the first from her high school to graduate with an associate’s degree.

Whitney is the first Steamboat graduate to earn an associate’s degree and graduate high school a year early.

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It wasn't easy. Whitney sacrificed some of the high school experience to focus on her college classes. She played volleyball for two years but wasn't able to continue into the third year. She also acknowledges she wasn't able to stay as connected with her friends. She did participate in the National Honor Society and Student Council, but she knows there are also a number of things she didn't do.

"It was worth it," Whitney said.

"I'm the proudest mom there is," said Keri Couchoud. "Every mom is proud, but seeing how hard she's worked, and everything's she's been through, she's over the top to me."

Whitney will start at CU with all of her prerequisites completed. After two years there, she plans to pursue a master's degree and possibly a Ph.D.

For now her focus is English, and she wants to keep her career options broad but with an emphasis on writing — whether it evolves into a career in academia, editing magazines or as a novelist.

Whitney will save about $60,000 in tuition and living expenses by entering college as a junior. The Steamboat Springs School District paid for Whitney's CMC tuition, excluding text books and summer classes.

Ed Bouchard, a CMC college counselor, said about 10 to 15 percent of high school students in Steamboat are taking college classes through the CEPA program, and it continues to grow. The program is also growing statewide, with more than 28,000 participating students.

While only a handful of Steamboat high school students have thus far earned their associate’s degree Bouchard notes that every college credit earned not only applies doubly to their high school diploma but is also widely accepted in the state and across the country.

It can be a "huge financial savings" for families, he said.

To participate, students must first talk to their high school counselor, Bouchard advised. Then the students’ test scores are evaluated to ensure they are at a college level and academically prepared to take college courses.

"The faculty loves having the high school students,” Bouchard said. “They say they're at a higher caliber academically, more highly motivated and more focused. I've gotten really positive responses."

Whitney said she was nervous at first, being 14 among mostly 20-year-olds. But that quickly passed.

She thrived academically at CMC — graduating with Phi Theta Kappa honors. Whitney said the faculty and staff at CMC  were amazing and she was impressed and inspired by her professors and appreciative of the support from her counselor.

Bouchard described Whitney as an "exemplary student" and said she serves as a great example for other high school students considering the same path.

"Being in that community and environment matured me more quickly," Whitney said. "Go for it if you have the work ethic and drive to do it."