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Nearly three dozen high school students in East Tennessee returned to school this year with a unique course load. During the next two years of high school, they will earn enough college credits to get not only their high school diploma, but also a two-year associates degree.

Roane State Community College teamed up with local high schools for the "Middle College" program. Thirty-three rising high school juniors from five Roane County schools will spend half their day on Roane State's campus, and half their day at their high schools. During their junior and senior years, they will complete 60 credit hours which will earn them an associates degree by the time they graduate high school.

"We have a lots of students and a strong history of dual enrollment," said Roane State president, Chris Whaley. "So, this just amps it up a little bit, to say, let's see if we can get students to earn both their high school diploma and their associates degree at the same time."

In order to enroll in the program, students had to score well on a pre-ACT test, and also interviewed with college officials.

"These are real go-getters," Whaley said. "We could not be more excited about their enthusiasm and their energy, and their motivation."

Harriman High School junior Treyton Peters is one of those students, and very excited about the year ahead.

"It's really just a big leg up on the competition," the aspiring collegiate football player said. "Even in sports, colleges know, hey-- this person can do it with the academic part of it, so we don't have to worry about that."

Two of Peters' teammates are also enrolled in the program: Adam Brock and Garrett Greene.

"I want to be an engineer and go to Tech, so I just hope that I can go for four years and just be that much more ahead," Greene said.

"I've thought about going into the Navy," added Brock. "[Middle College] will put us two years ahead of the pack, of everybody else, [and] help with getting scholarships, hopefully."

Students pay a tuition fee to Roane State, but receive assistance through various scholarship funds. Whaley said families can save on college costs through this program.

"If you think about investing in two years of community college while your son or daughter is a junior and senior in high school, have them living at home, have them eating at home, as opposed to moving from home and living away, and the fees to live on campus as well as meals and university tuition," he said.

As a member of the first Middle College at Roane State, Peters hopes to create a path for future students to follow.

"I want to go in and I want to try to do my best and still make the high grades that I made at the high school," he said. "And maybe try and set the example for the rest of East Tennessee that it's a good program and it helps everybody. And if we can show them that it works well, hopefully other people will get the opportunity."

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