Seventeen-year-old Kelly Robb graduated in June from Saint John Vianney High School in Holmdel.

About a month prior, she graduated from community college.

"It feels like we have a pretty solid head start," Robb told New Jersey 101.5. "The goal that I had in mind was to also complete my master's degree since I want to become a licensed counselor."

Robb will enter The College of New Jersey in the fall with two years' worth of credits already under her belt.

Robb is one of more than 90 students throughout Monmouth County who augmented their high school education with college-level courses through an Early College High School program offered by Brookdale Community College. The credits, earned either through classes at the high school or ones offered through Brookdale remotely or on campus, transfer easily to four-year colleges.

All of the students involved have been on the fast-track to a college degree since their freshman year of high school.

"The experience really prepares you for expectations from your professors and also the kind of workload that you have to do in college," Robb said.

This is the second cohort to graduate from Brookdale's ECHS program; this year's crew came from nine high schools throughout the county. Participating students had a unique experience during the past two academic years due to challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

"These partnerships have saved students both time and money in their pursuit of a college degree while preparing them for the highest level of success after graduation," said Brookdale President David Stout.

Stout recently attended Keyport High School's graduation, where 12 young men and women graduated with an associate degree already in hand.

"They're getting two years of college for less than the cost of one, basically," said Sarah McElroy, executive director of Career and Transfer Pathways at Brookdale.

According to BCC, the program prepares students to transfer to any university in the country — TCNJ, Montclair State University, Boston University, and the United States Naval Academy are among the long list of institutions accepting Brookdale's ECHS students this year.

"You're being identified in eighth grade, because you're on a very tight course map for all four years of high school," said Tara Nicholas, assistant principal of guidance at Middletown High School North.

"We are so proud of the 32 students who graduated from BCC," added Raritan High School Principal Andrew Piotrowski. "It is rewarding for our students and administrators to see their dreams come true over the past four years."

Brookdale said the program continues to take on students entering their freshman year of high school in the county. The community college is hoping that more high schools sign on to the idea.

According to the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, in the past year, nearly 200 students from 11 county vocational-technical high schools earned both a high school diploma and an associate degree from a community college in the Garden State.

All 18 New Jersey community colleges have “dual enrollment” partnerships with local school districts, which enable more than 24,000 high school students each year to take community college courses before graduating from high school, NJCCC said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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