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New partnership gives high schoolers the opportunity to earn an associate degree

November 30, 2016

A new partnership with Unit 5 will allow high school freshman to earn a college degree.

Starting with the 2017 freshman class at Normal West Community High School, the partnership allows students to earn an associate degree in computer science while earning their high school diploma.

According to Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Sarah Diel-Hunt, this kind of opportunity is not new nationwide, but new for Heartland. “There’s been a national trend to offer these kinds of advanced opportunities to high school students who are ready,” she said.

Readiness is a key factor for the program. Students enroll as freshman and take courses for the degree as well as all their high school requirements. Due to the course rigor, Diel-Hunt adds that the program is aimed at high-achieving students, those who are on the advance track in math during Junior High and have an interest in computer science. Students also need to attend or transfer to Normal West to be eligible.

Specifically, participating students complete requirements for the computer science degree through a combination of dual credits currently offered at the high school and advanced placement (AP) courses such as Calculus I and II. Those courses are then combined with requirements offered on the HCC campus. Since AP classes are part of a regular advanced high school curriculum and dual credit courses are tuition-free, the only cost a participant might encounter are the courses taken at Heartland. Diel-Hunt anticipates about 33 hours will be taken at HCC, thus cutting the cost of the associate degree for participating students almost in half.

The partnership also highlights the benefit for differentiated learning in secondary education. “It used to be that everyone got the same curriculum and opportunities on the same timeline,” explained Diel-Hunt. “Having a model of differentiated opportunities based on achievement level allows students who are ready to take full advantage of opportunities on the timeline that makes sense for them as individual learners.”

To learn more about the program, contact Heartland Community College at 309-268-8033 or email Enrollment Services at

Written by: Becky Gropp