Tuition is free, experience is priceless

March 9, 2015


High school student Alexa Summers cashes in on Senate Bill 155 to get a head start on college

Do you know what Alexa Summers did last summer?

She took CPR and Anatomy from Johnson County Community College. What’s so great about that? She enrolled between her sophomore and junior years at Blue Valley Northwest High School. At only 16, she took on college-level classes.

And guess what? They cost her no out-of-pocket tuition. Yep. Free tuition. But more on that later.

Keeping busy

“I like having something to do,” Summers explained.

Oh sure, she had a job. (She works part-time in an optometrist’s office.) She had hobbies. (She has won prizes for her woodworking. She also loves photography and theatre.) But when she heard at a college clinic that she could take classes at JCCC even before graduating from high school, she added JCCC to her list.

“The classes have been wonderful,” Summers said. “During the summer, I’d be in the anatomy lab from noon to 10 p.m. The lab aides were fantastic.”

While fellow classmates were at the pool, she was memorizing the names of bones. While they hung out and watched TV, she was studying models of the digestive system.

Why?

“Because I want to go into forensic science, and I figured those classes would help me in my future career,” she explained.

Second thoughts

Summers finished high-school anatomy while a sophomore, and she took a chance at the college-level class.

It was hard. So hard, in fact, that she wanted to quit the class after the very first session.

Nobody talked to her. She was not the type to just strike up a conversation. So, knowing no one, being much younger than them, she told her mother, “Mom, I want to drop out.”

“She wouldn’t let me,” Summers said. “Now, of course, I’m glad I stayed.”

She became part of an anatomy study group. Group members ranged in age from 18 to mid-40s, yet her youth didn’t matter when they all struggled together.

Here’s the free part

To pay for the class, she cashed in on the little-known Senate Bill 155, passed in 2012. It’s also called Excel in Career Technical Education (CTE). For classes that meet certain criteria, tuition is free for the student.

“A lot of students don’t realize this opportunity exists,” explained Shelia Mauppin, dean of career and technical education transitions. The credits may count toward degrees or transfer the same as any other college class.

Summers came back to JCCC for Spring 2015. She enrolled in Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation (ADMJ 154), which was free under the CTE program, and Fencing (HPER 175), which was not. (She paid for the one credit herself.)

Both meet in the evening, allowing her to stay at BVNW during the day.

“I took the fundamentals class because it’s something that I’m very interested about and is related to my goal of forensic science,” she said. “I took fencing because it sounded fun. And it is fun!”

JCCC in her future

Summer’s career path in forensic science follows many female role models in the medical field. Her mother is an X-ray technician, her aunt is a doctor, and her sister is enrolled in pharmacy school.

Her plan is to continue to take credits throughout high school, a class or two at a time, and then enroll full-time at JCCC after graduation.

“I really love it here,” she said. If someone said she couldn’t come to JCCC anymore? “I’d cry,” she said. “I’m all for opportunities, and JCCC has been a great one.”