EDMOND — Christen Hickey’s expectation since early childhood was to be a nurse.
What she didn’t expect was to take her first nursing class — and other college courses — while still in high school.
Hickey had 11 college credits under her belt when she started her freshman year at the University of Central Oklahoma.
And those 11 hours were tuition-free, thanks to the concurrent enrollment program offered by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
The program allows public institutions in Oklahoma to waive tuition up to six hours per semester for eligible high school seniors, starting with the summer before their senior year. That can add up to 18 hours earned before high school graduation.
“You’re almost a sophomore when you get here,” said Jay Corwin, senior associate vice president in student affairs at UCO. “It’s such an incredible opportunity.”
Students testing the waters don’t have to commit to the institution where they take the classes. Administrators recommend courses like government, English and college algebra because those credits can transfer to almost any other college or university if the student chooses to go elsewhere, he said.
Students who take concurrent enrollment courses in high school get ahead of the game so they can take fewer hours each semester going forward, Corwin said.
“It’s a gift to high school seniors,” he said.
‘Learning the ropes’
Hickey, 19, was beginning her senior year at Edmond Memorial High School in 2012 when she took her first course at UCO and discovered she fit in just fine.
“I started in August along with everyone who was a freshman. I seemed like another freshman learning the ropes,” she said.
While some of her high school friends were suffering from the senior slump, Hickey said she felt invigorated.
“It was a breath of fresh air to leave the high school campus (at midday) and have that freedom. Everyone trusted me,” she said.
During the spring semester, Hickey drove to UCO with her introduction to nursing textbook in the seat next to her. “That really motivated me,” she said.
By the time she graduated last May, she was “twice as excited” to go to college. And on her “real first day of college,” she saw familiar faces among the students and faculty and knew her way around campus.
“It’s a nice partnership between us and the high schools,” said Megan Hagar, UCO director of recruitment and scholarships.
High school counselors help the seniors coordinate their schedules on the two campuses and make sure they don’t take more than 19 hours combined, Hagar said.
Eligibility is based on an ACT score or grade point average, but family income is not a factor. Concurrent enrollment also is available for high school juniors, but the tuition waiver does not apply.
It can help two kinds of students, Hagar and Corwin said.
“If they ask how do I get ahead in the college game, it’s the perfect opportunity. It helps them prepare,” Corwin said.
It’s also good for students wondering if they can succeed in college, Hagar said. “It can help them with that confidence level.”
Data from the State Regents office show concurrent enrollment students are more likely than their peers to go to college, persist in college and graduate. Systemwide in 2012, 16 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen had enrolled in concurrent courses during high school.
“I’m really glad that I did it,” Hickey said.
Jump-starting college had a lot of advantages, including allowing her to take on UCO’s leadership minor along with her nursing major, she said.
As a member of the Leaders of Tomorrow Council, she participated in various service projects throughout the academic year, logging 170 volunteer hours.
“I have an innate need to take care of people in my daily life,” Hickey said. Being a volunteer and a nurse are two ways she can do that.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in nursing, she plans to work in the field for a few years. Then she wants to earn her master’s degree and become a nurse practitioner in either pediatrics or family care.
“It’s very exciting to be here and to know that in just a few years I’ll be out there helping people.”
At a glance
It isn’t too late for high school seniors to enroll in summer courses at UCO. They can go to www.uco.edu/concurrent or call 974-2727. For information about concurrent enrollment at other campuses, call the Oklahoma public college or university you wish to attend.
Did you know?
Concurrent enrollment students are more likely than their peers to go to college, persist in college and graduate, according to the State Regents office.
I started in August along with everyone who was a freshman. I seemed like another freshman learning the ropes. ... It was a breath of fresh air to leave the high school campus (at midday) and have that freedom.”
University of Central Oklahoma nursing student