The Early College Program at Bakersfield College seems to be making it the norm for Bakersfield high school students to graduate with two degrees.

The program, according to the program director Kylie Campbell, aims to help high school students work toward getting their AA, while simultaneously working on receiving their high school diploma. The goal is to gets students ahead in their educational careers by at least two years.

“(Students) are selected to complete an associate degree by the time they graduate from high school (and) that's our big vision for early college, being able to do that for more and more students,” Campbell said.

BC is growing closer to doing that, boasting 8,500 students participating in the program two years ago.

The Early College program introduces the program to students early, sometimes before they even start the ninth grade. The teachers and administrators, who are located at the schools that work in collaboration with BC, have 36 dual enrollment partners who speak to students about the program and provide them with further information.

If they are interested, they host a trying period where they decide if they like the program. If they like it, students go forward with the program and choose to take the college courses as an elective in their school year schedule, as well as during the summer.

Recent Wasco High school and BC graduate Jayleen Vargas was one of the students who was recruited in eighth grade.

“During eighth grade toward the end of the year, a couple of teachers and administrators came to our classes, around the time we were able to choose our electives for the next year and they were talking about the program. If we wanted to join they gave us a pamphlet and an application so that we could be part of the process too. We went to this orientation where we learned more about it and we filled out our application, answered a few questions, submitted our grades and within a few months we were mailed a letter of acceptance,” Vargas said.

Vargas joined the agricultural business program, each school offering different programs based on the industry need in the community, and began her collegiate career, something that as a first-generation student was high on her priority list. Vargas shared how happy and excited she was to be able to graduate and receive not just a high-school diploma but also an associate’s degree, something that helped fulfill not just one dream, but two. Vargas’ father had been her biggest supporter and had constantly encouraged her to receive an education, something that for him had never been a possibility.

“My family was very excited about the opportunity because they were not fortunate enough to be able to finish their education or pursue a higher education, like my dad he always tells me if he had the opportunity to, he would go to college, but it just was never an option for him. I feel like it's something that I did that’s making him very proud and he's proud to see that I'm pursuing a degree further, my bachelor's degree,” Vargas shared.

Vargas was one of 60 chosen to participate in the program from a pool of 300 students. Arvin High School student Eduarda Angeles was also one of 60, though her school’s program ran a little differently. For Angeles, her schedule consisted more of dual days of schooling. She attended her regular classes during the day and would then attend the program classes after school, something her parents worried would be too grueling for her. But much like Vargas, Angeles is a first-generation student and was determined to be the first in her family to attend and graduate college.

“My parents at first ... were worried a bit because they thought I was overworking myself, but I just knew I had to keep going and they supported me and now they’re proud that I have. Now they’re bragging to my family that I have all these credits,” Angeles said, smiling.

The Early College program doesn’t just shorten the time for the student would be in school but it also could reduce the economic burden the student or their family would otherwise face.

For the two students, those two years have made all the difference. Both students have big plans for their future. Vargas is heading to Cal State Bakersfield to finish her prerequisites before transferring to UC Irvine to join the nursing program, and Eduarda will be heading to UC Berkeley in the fall to further her studies in communications. Both have dreams of graduating and receiving their bachelor’s degree by the time they’re 20.

“The communities we live in are pretty low income and not many people have these high ambitions to go to university just because financial problems are something that's very prominent here, so I feel this is an amazing opportunity for those who don't see that as an option, they get a taste of what it's like to take these college courses and all for free,” Vargas said.

Campbell hopes BC will be able to provide even more students with not just a greater education, but with a higher degree.

“We had 102 graduates like Eduarda and Jayleen this year and this just inspires my work more and more. I want to see that number double in the next two years and then keep climbing,” Campbell said.

For more information on the Early College Program, visit https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/earlycollege.