Technically, Madison Riggle is still a high school student — but she’s a college graduate, too.
The 17-year-old received her Associates of Art degree from Pasco-Hernando State College on Dec. 13, while still enrolled at Sunlake High School.
The feat was made possible through the Collegiate High School program, a partnership between PHSC and Pasco County Schools.
Riggle was one of the first students chosen for the dual-enrollment initiative, which began during the 2015-2016 school year.
A lottery process is now used each year to select students to fill up to 60 available seats.
To qualify, junior and senior-level students must meet several criteria, including traditional Dual Enrollment participation requirements — 3.0 GPA and College Ready PERT (Postsecondary Education Readiness Test) assessment scores in all areas.
For Riggle, the achievement was a long time coming.
In seventh grade, she drew up several long-term goals.
One was to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree prior to graduating high school.
In fact, Riggle accumulated enough credit hours — at least 60 — to graduate a semester early, another notable achievement.
According to the school district’s website, the Collegiate High School program allows students to earn an AA/AS Degree or a Cape Certification while also earning their Standard High School Diploma. Students in the program attend class full-time at PHSC campuses, and don’t take any courses on the high school campus. However, they are still considered a student of their zoned school, and are able to participate in their zoned school athletics, student activities and graduation ceremonies.
For Riggle, it “was a great opportunity.”
“The great thing about this program,” she said, “is that…it pays for your college, it pays for your books, it pays for your lab fees, and everything else that comes with college.”
Riggle attended Sunlake High School for her freshman and sophomore years. In the summer leading up to her junior year, however, she exclusively took classes at PHSC.
She was just 15.
Elder PHSC classmates, unsurprisingly, were dumbfounded once they discovered Riggle was just a teenager.
“They were all amazed,” Riggle said, with a chuckle. “Most people actually thought I was a lot older than I was.”
Even so, she was ready for the challenges higher education entails.
“You definitely have to be a lot more independent and more mature than in high school,” Riggle explained. “You have to designate your own study time, because you might not get all the information in class. You just had to work harder and study more for those classes than high school.”
That’s not the only key difference from high school, though.
“The thing that amazes me the most, was that you can just get up and leave out of class. You don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom or anything,” Riggle said.
She added there’s also less “busy work” than in typical high school classes.
“I like college a lot; I will say that.”
While she favors the college atmosphere, Riggle acknowledged she occasionally misses seeing friends roam the halls at Sunlake.
“I don’t really get to see them as much,” Riggle said, “because when they’re in school, I’m either working, or when they’re out of school, I’m working or in school.”
Nevertheless, the aspiring pharmacist said she couldn’t pass up the prospect of getting a jump on her postsecondary education.
Riggle, who’s still taking classes at PHSC, figures it’ll take somewhere between two to three years to earn her bachelor’s degree, prior to enrolling in pharmacy school.
“It definitely gave me a major head start, because I don’t have to take all basic classes that everyone else has to take,” Riggle said.
For her associate degree, Riggle took a combination of introductory classes — religion, humanities — alongside “upper level” math and science courses.
“I really liked anatomy,” she said. “I just found it really interesting how the human body works.
“I also really liked biology a lot.”
To Riggle, participating in the program was preferable to simply graduating from high school early.
Yet, she cautioned the program “isn’t for everyone.”
“I completely recommend it, if you are ready to be a bit more independent while still being in high school,” she said. “If you like the high school environment, enjoy the four years of high school, by all means. But, for me, I was just ready to expand myself…and be more independent.”
Though she no longer attends Sunlake, Riggle still makes it a point to partake in school-related activities, like prom and Homecoming Week.
She’ll also walk across the graduation stage, come May.
“I did powder puff and skit, and all that fun stuff,” Riggle said, “so I definitely try to stay involved in high school — I just don’t have any classes on campus.”
Meantime, Riggle is considering several universities — the University of South Florida, Palm Beach Atlantic University and Florida Gulf Coast University.
She admits she still has “no clue” where she’ll wind up.
“I’m still trying to figure out how my cards will play out over the next couple of months,” Riggle said.
Published January 18, 2017