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Will O'Bryan graduated from Frankfort High Wednesday with a high school diploma and an associate degree from Kentucky State University. (Photo submitted)

Two years ago, Frankfort Independent Schools and Kentucky State University entered into a partnership.

It didn’t take long for that partnership to produce results.

This week, as Frankfort High holds graduation, every member of the FHS class of 2020 will graduate with college credit in at least one course, and Will O’Bryan is the first to graduate from FHS with a high school diploma and an associate degree from KSU.

“The beauty of it is we have eliminated barriers in which kids have the opportunity and access to post-secondary instruction and classes,” FIS Superintendent Houston Barber said of the partnership.

“One hundred percent of our seniors have had some form of early college. It’s remarkable, really.”

Kentucky State President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II agrees.

“This year is exciting for as short a time as we’ve had this program, this year we’ll have our first early college graduate,” he said. “Students can graduate with work-ready skills. It’s a phenomenal opportunity.”

In the partnership, KSU pays the cost of professors and offers a reduced tuition agreement, and FIS, as a school system, pays for any tuition costs.

“One of the things is we believe in an equitable opportunity for each and every child,” Barber said. “We’re moving away from AP (advanced placement) courses. They can create an environment where kids compete, and there are a lot of barriers associated with it.

“We’re focusing on every student having the opportunity for post-secondary access, to find their passion. We want to feed those passions.”

FHS students can begin taking college classes their freshman year.

Many of the classes are dual credit, where it counts toward the state requirements for a high school diploma and as a college credit.

“Not only are we offering free tuition and college courses, every kid who wants it can have that opportunity and have access, not a select few, the elite, or students who have traditionally been labeled gifted and talented,” Barber said.

“It’s hard, it’s challenging, but it might not be like they thought it would be, and they can do it from the comfort of their surroundings. I think it helps. This is to give them a start, to see what it’s about, and more and more kids want post-secondary instruction.

“It started two years ago, and we already have one student who is graduating with an associate degree. There are no barriers. We offer 14 different courses on campus, not just college at Kentucky State, but 14 courses on campus.”

O’Bryan started at FHS as a junior and while he planned to take dual credit classes, he wasn’t planning on earning an associate’s degree.

“It just kind of happened,” he said. “When I first came here I knew I’d be taking dual credit classes to get some college credits out of the way, but I didn’t realize I was going to get an associate degree in two years.”

O’Bryan said his degree is in liberal arts.

“It’s all general education classes, math, English, history, all the basic stuff you need to have,” he said.

A member of the FHS basketball team the past two years, O’Bryan will be attending Asbury University, where he’ll play basketball. During his four years at Asbury, O’Bryan plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Business Administration degree.

To Brown, that’s a big plus of the partnership.

“If a person wants to go on to college for four years, whether it’s Kentucky State or another college in the commonwealth, they have two years under their belt,” he said. “That can mean less student debt and quicker entry into the workforce.

“If you have an associate degree and continue for a four-year degree, you’re still finishing college at 19 or 20 years old.”

For Brown, the partnership helps fulfill his vision for KSU.

“A university should be that place to anchor a community and provide meaningful services,” he said.

“We’ve provided a place for conventions, for graduation ceremonies. We’ve hosted state and regional competitions. We’ve had a lot of dance competitions on campus, and we’ve hosted weddings on campus.”

Brown said the goal next year will be 100% of FHS seniors graduating with college credit, and the working relationship between him and Barber should help the partnership’s growth.

“Dr. Barber is very easy to work with, and his staff is very easy to work with,” Brown said. “We’re both available 24/7. We meet regularly; our staffs meet regularly. We’ve done that since Day 1.”

“The partnership with Dr. Brown and KSU is remarkable,” Barber said, “and should be celebrated nationwide.”

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