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DUO Program Delivers Opportunities, Head Start for High School Students

"I believe this program could be my road to success,” soon-to-be high school junior Alexis Miller-Giddens reflected. “Everyone has different success stories and this could be mine.”

Miller-Giddens is one of 19 students who will be part of the first cohort of students to participate in the new DUO program, a collaboration between McHenry County College (MCC) and Harvard Community Unit School District 50 that allows select high school students to earn a high school diploma and associate degree at the same time.

The program, which launched earlier this year, gives students the opportunity to gain experience in college-level coursework, expedite an advanced degree, and potentially get started in their career earlier—all while still having the ability to participate in traditional high school activities such as fine arts, athletics, and clubs.

“The program is designed to set students up for life-long success,” said Mike Kennedy, Director of College and Career Readiness at MCC. “We know that students with an associate degree earn on average $141 per week more than those with only a high school diploma. Associate degrees can open doors to a variety of new career opportunities and give students a better chance of finding a career they love.”

One of the most appealing parts of the program is that it is available at no cost to the students. MCC, District 50, and the Harvard Education Foundation will each cover one-third of the tuition, while students’ families are only responsible for books and any additional fees. Transportation is also provided by the school district.

“In the program, students begin taking classes at MCC the summer before their junior year,” Kennedy said. “During the regular school year, students will travel to MCC for classes in the morning. In the afternoon, they’ll take HHS courses, some of which will be for dual credit.”

Miller-Giddens and her classmates will be starting MCC 101, a college experience course, and PDV 110, a career development course, this summer—then start with Chemistry and Sociology on MCC’s campus this fall.

Eric Castaneda, who recently completed his sophomore year at HHS, will also be starting classes as part of the DUO program this summer.

“I was inspired to apply because I could get a head start on my college career while still attending high school,” he said. “I’m looking forward to studying on campus and getting my first experience of being a college student.”

Castaneda is currently interested in majoring in physics with a minor in computer science.

“I’m considering applying to multiple schools, and I hope the DUO program will only improve my chances of getting into my top choice. I’m also hoping the program teaches me efficient time management as I balance college and high school classes. I know that is a skill that will end up helping me in the long run.”

Miller-Giddens plans to work toward becoming a children’s psychologist. “I want children of the future generation to know that they aren't alone,” she said of her decision. “I want them to know they can seek help, and that someone is listening. I want to inspire and lead them in the right direction.”

The College also has a Dual Degree program with Woodstock District 200, and is working on expanding the program to other schools in the area. A selection of Dual Credit courses, which allow students to earn college credit for the same class they are taking in high school, will be available at all 15 of the local high schools as of Fall 2021.

One of the reasons the College decided to expand their partnership with Harvard was their diverse student demographic, Kennedy said.

“In terms of race, the male/female student ratio, and even students with 504 plans (students who receive accommodations for disabilities), Harvard has a wonderful and diverse group of students. District 50 has been working incredibly hard to expand the opportunities they offer, including Dual Credit—which was one of the main elements that made this DUO program a possibility. I’m so excited for this group of students.”

To be eligible for the DUO program, students must be high school sophomores, receive a 2.0 GPA or higher in the previous year, have an 85% attendance rate, be in good academic standing, and have certain prerequisites in coursework. The application process includes a form (with essay portion) for students to complete as well as two letters of recommendation from HHS staff.

“The selection committee removed the names from the applications so the spots were selected based on data alone,” said Kennedy. “This allowed them to remove any bias and led to them getting a great split of students.”

The committee also looks at students’ future plans to ensure the program is a good fit for them. And while the first cohort has 19 students, future classes could be bigger based on feedback from this year’s program, he added.  

Alongside a group of her friends and classmates, Miller-Giddens is excited to start the program this summer.

“I’m inspired to grow academically and ready to take on this coursework,” said Miller-Giddens. “I know everyone doesn't get this opportunity, but I'm beyond grateful that I do. I like to think the challenges that I’ll encounter in this program will help shape me into who I am as an individual. I can say I attended college at the age of sixteen. Not many people can actually say that. I get the feeling that the program will indeed be a challenge—but one I know I can handle.”

For more information on MCC’s Dual Degree programs, visit