ANKENY, Iowa — Mary Shenouda is 17-years-old, but she’s way ahead in her college education.

“I have a high school diploma, liberal arts degree and EMT certificate,” Shenouda said.

It’s all because she started the DMACC Career Advantage program as a freshman at Valley Southwoods High School.

“I didn’t even know that, that was even a possibility,” Shenouda said. “I was able to take more DMACC classes my senior year to reach the credit requirement for both of those degrees.”

This past school year, DMACC served a record number of students within the program.

“We had a record 552 high school students in either a degree, certificate or a diploma. That’s up 38% from the year before,” Michael Lentsch, Director of the DMACC Career Advantage Program.

According to Lentsch, about 17,000 graduates this year saved $26 million in tuition.

The program allows students to take college or advanced courses while attending high school.

It’s the largest program of it’s kind in the country. It comes at a time when dual enrollment is seeing an increase.

The program is part of the Senior Year Plus program.

“It allows for the community colleges to partner with their local area school districts to provide these type of courses and programs for free to students,” Lenstch said. “We always want to ensure that those courses that are run in high school are of the highest quality.”

The program gives students an opportunity to have a college experience and transfer credits from DMACC to another institution.

“We know a lot of these students graduate with a lot of credits, and they transfer on to a four-year-school,” he said. “So we’ve tried to work closely with students to determine which courses transfer where, which courses would help you earn a degree or diploma, working with even four-year institutions, understanding that they’re seeing a lot of students coming in with credits as well.”

The community college works with 67 schools with the program. Students have the option to take classes online, on campus or in high school.

For Shenouda, DMACC is a stepping stone for her education by giving her a head start.

She is heading to Iowa State University this fall and plans on attending dental school after.

“I’m currently classified as a junior at Iowa State because of my two years of the DMACC that I’ve taken at high school,” she said.

Not only does the program save time, but also money as well.

“My parents are helping pay for college with me and my six siblings. So to have that reduced by two years of college tuition. It’s just very amazing to me. It takes that load off my parents.”

Her advice to high school students is to take college classes as seriously as if they’re a real college student.

“A lot of times people will think it’s just a regular high school class. It won’t follow me throughout college, but they made sure that we were aware that not only will it affect your high school transcript, but also your DMACC transcript, which can potentially follow you to your next post-secondary school.”

To get started, Lentsch suggests students talk to their school counselor about starting classes.

You can learn more about the program by going to the Career Advantage Program.