Ashley Rietmann is what most would call a go-getter. An 18-year-old senior at St. Mary’s School in Medford, Rietmann will be a salutatorian when she graduates in June, is simultaneously serving as the president of both the student council and the Rotary Junior Interact Club, and somehow found time last fall to play for the varsity volleyball team, serving as — you guessed it — team captain.
“It’s crazy,” she said, when asked how she fits everything in.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rietmann will almost certainly have a leg up on most of her peers when she arrives at Loyola Marymount University’s campus in Los Angeles this September, having completed a whopping 11 advanced placement courses, including six — some still in progress — this school year. What will set Rietmann apart from other first-year college students even more, however, is the fact that before she even unpacks her bags and moves into her dorm room she’ll have already earned 74 credit hours of course work, enough to qualify as a sophomore and only 16 credits shy of junior status.
Rietmann did it by taking advantage of Southern Oregon University’s Advanced Southern Credit program, which allows high school students to earn both high school and college credits for approved advanced placement courses. The program allows high schoolers to save both time and money, as the college credits are available at a substantially reduced rate.
According to SOU, Rietmann is among 1,500 students from at least 22 high schools in Oregon, California and Nevada currently participating in the ASC program, and despite all the late nights with her head in a book she’s happy her parents and the staff at St. Mary’s had the foresight to encourage her to start taking advantage of it early on as a high school sophomore.
“For me, personally, it just means that I can jump right into my major classes and I can just kind of get on with my life and start right into what’s going to make me a doctor, because that’s what I want to be,” said Rietmann, who’s planning on pursuing a double major in Biology and Psychology with a minor in Spanish. “Because I don’t want to just go to school if I’m not learning. So sitting through classes that I’ve already gone through and I’m not learning anything is boring, honestly. I love learning, and so for me getting ahead of the game is just going to make learning more exciting for me because I will be learning new things. I’m just going to get to jump right in up to the next level and be challenged.”
And she'll do so while accumulating substantially less debt than the average LMU undergrad.
Students who had access to approved courses this school year and took advantage of the program are paying $41 per credit, or $164 for a four-credit course, and a waiver option mostly for students who qualify for the federal free-and reduced-price lunch program can cut that sticker price to $5 per college credit. Comparatively, full-time students at SOU paid $1,084.64 in tuition and fees for four-credit courses during the 2016-17 school year. And that’s a bargain compared to Rietmann’s college of choice — Loyola Marymount’s tuition and fees for out-of-state students is roughly four times SOU’s in-state cost.
Not every high school student will have as many ASC options as Rietmann has capitalized on at St. Mary’s, and there’s a reason why. It's a process. Teachers with master’s degrees or higher may submit ASC course proposals to academic department chairs at SOU, and if those courses are approved the high school teachers must then go through professional development training at SOU. The high schools receive 14 percent rebates on students’ tuition payments for ASC classes, a fee which helps cover the cost of the training.
According to SOU, St. Mary’s offers more ASC courses — 39 — than any other high school. North Medford High offers 34, Ashland High 24 and Phoenix High 22.
“The (college) credits are transferrable to all public universities in Oregon and to most public and private universities nationwide,” said Stephanie Butler, SOU’s pre-college youth programs coordinator.
Rowan Lovich, another St. Mary’s senior, will begin University of Oregon as a sophomore next September after having earned 66 credits through the ASC program. Another overachiever, Lovich will be one of three St. Mary’s valedictorians, carries a 4.05 GPA and plays the viola for the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon.
Lovich is planning on majoring in Human Physiology and her long-term goal is to get into the medical field through the Air Force. That makes for a challenging path ahead, and she was happy to make it a little less so by hitting the books hard in high school.
“I think the reason that I was really drawn to the credits was because I knew that I wanted to do higher-level science classes and the opportunity to get some of the general education requirements out of the way allowed me to get into these upper-level classes sooner in my college career," she said. "That was really important to me, and then it’ll also give me the opportunity in my class schedule, since I have so many classes taken care of, to take more electives that are hard to schedule and are offered at limited times.”
When asked if it was worth it, Lovich didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, definitely worth it,” she said. “I would say that the level of understanding of the topics I’ve taken is much higher than it would have been if I hadn’t taken an AP. And I feel like I really understand the topics that we’ve learned about. It’s not just a brief overview — I truly understand them.
“The teachers definitely try to run it like a college-level course. They have higher expectations, there’s definitely more work and they expect that much more of you, so I think you really have to show up and do the work to do well in these classes, and that’s what they’re going to expect in college. So I really do think it’s a great intro into what that life’s going to be like and it helped me to prepare myself better.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.