Notre Dame College Class of 2023 bachelor’s degree graduate Amber Monáe Bennett turns 18 years old on May 20, 2023.
She marked her commencement at Notre Dame in May this year after completing the coursework for her degree and her high school diploma six months earlier. Amber earned both her Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a 3.6 GPA from Notre Dame and her high school diploma concurrently through the College Credit Plus (CCP) program at Notre Dame.
Through CCP a student can enroll in college-level classes at Notre Dame that count as credits toward both their high school and bachelor’s degrees, saving time and money.
Amber achieved both diplomas in less than three years. She took online classes year-round at Notre Dame. In total, she has earned 131 college credits and more than 50 high school credits.
“It feels surreal to finally be at this moment after all this hard work,” Amber said following her walk across the stage in Notre Dame’s Regina Auditorium where she received her degree during the College’s 99th commencement on May 6, 2023. “I’m so blessed. I feel pride to say I graduated from Notre Dame College.”
Amber plans to jump start her advanced credentials now. She has been accepted into a master’s degree program in counseling and art therapy, even before she turned 18. She wants to work as a clinical counselor, incorporating art therapy.
She will celebrate her high school graduation from Ohio Connections Academy on June 3 at the statewide online school’s graduation ceremony at the Ohio Theater in Columbus. Ohio Connections Academy also participates in the CCP program.
Amber has merited three signets for her high school diploma, the citizenship seal, the science seal and the honors seal.
Notre Dame College Credit Plus
Amber started at Notre Dame when she was the equivalent of a junior in high school. She enrolled in two online CCP classes each semester, including summers. Each course generally is eight weeks.
Notre Dame also offers CCP courses on its campus in South Euclid, Ohio, and in some high schools throughout the Cleveland area, like Benedictine, Holy Name, Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and now Walsh Jesuit High School.
Amber selected from among all Notre Dame offerings, including psychology, innovative math and exclusive current ethical problems and social justice theology courses not offered through high schools.
“With CCP you get to choose what you like to do, the courses you are interested in, to meet upper-level general education requirements,” Amber said.
Tabitha Meeks, CCP manager at Notre Dame, said Amber was able to enroll in her major coursework as soon as she started at the College. Almost all of Notre Dame’s 30 degree programs are available via CCP.
Amber also earned high school and college credit at the same time for both an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science degree, when she was 14 and 15 years old, respectively. She completed the A.A. in December 2020 and the A.S. in May 2020, both with honors, through a related CCP program.
All the credits from her associate’s degrees transferred toward her Bachelor of Arts at Notre Dame as part of the College’s articulation agreements with Northeast Ohio colleges.
After researching CCP programs for bachelor’s degrees, Amber said Notre Dame felt like the right fit.
“Notre Dame was the best option for me. The campus is close to my home, and I was able to study psychology,” the Richmond Heights resident said. “The staff were very kind, and they cared about my success. It felt like family.”
Faculty, Family Support
Amber was greeted after the College commencement ceremony by Steven Sabo, director of academic advising at Notre Dame. He worked with Amber and her family throughout the CCP process and was excited to congratulate them upon her graduation.
Together Steven and Amber, with her mother, Angelita Bennett, mapped out an academic plan, creating a direct pathway of courses and a calendar for Amber to earn both her high school and Notre Dame degrees at the same time. Tabitha aided Amber in her transition, too, even before the start of classes, by placing the high school student in courses with the College’s most elite educators.
“The professors at NDC were all very kind. I was able to ask them any questions I had, and I knew I could count on them for help. They all wanted each student to succeed,” she said.
Notre Dame’s small student-to-faculty ratio, 14:1, allows CCP students and their professors to directly connect in the classroom, whether online or in-person. Tabitha noted the added benefit of faculty open office hours, designated times during the week when instructors are available to meet with students individually. This opportunity is rarely, if at all, provided in high schools or with online college courses and supports each CCP student in their personal transition to Notre Dame.
Steven mentioned that Amber was enrolling in what amounts to high school Advanced Placement courses. While she pursued two at a time, Steven shared that even taking one class a semester through CCP can allow a student to get ahead of the educational curve—and get a head start on the job market, without needing student loans.
Amber’s mother agrees.
“Participating in the CCP program will save your student and your family a lot of money,” Angelita said. “This will allow them to stay out of debt while they earn college degrees.”
Online Course Environment
Amber attributed strong support from her faculty at Notre Dame, as well as her family at home, as influential in her success in online CCP classes.
“I loved taking my online courses at NDC,” she said. “The operating system is very user-friendly, and all work is available from the beginning of the course. It was easy for me to work at my own pace and get in contact with my instructors if I needed to.”
Most of the credits Amber earned throughout junior high and high school were college level, so she was able to focus her energy on those classes.
Still, not everything was easy. The coursework is advanced. The subject matter may be mature.
“It is important to do your research and make sure you know about the programs you would like your child to enroll in,” Angelita said.” Make sure you have time to support your children and be there for them when times get hard. Be an advocate for them and teach them how important it is to ask questions.”
Steven recommends high school students be inclined toward academic rigor and structured in their approach to make the most of their CCP courses. Amber recommends Notre Dame’s CCP program.
“I would highly encourage any students who are considering taking courses through the NDC CCP program to go for it! I had a good experience, and I feel that NDC has truly enriched my education,” she said.
In addition to her bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame, Amber completed both associate’s degrees at Cuyahoga Community College, which participates in CCP, and will pursue her master’s degree at Ursuline College.
She maintains allegiance to Notre Dame.
“I like what the school stands for,” Amber said. “Each person I encountered at NDC was truly kindhearted. I am happy to call myself a NDC alumna.”
Her mother is grateful to Notre Dame, too. Amber’s sister, Anita Bennett is 14 years old and she wants to study early childhood education. She expects to begin her CCP program at Notre Dame this fall.
“If your student goes through the CCP program with a goal in mind, they can accomplish anything,” Angelita said. “I would like to thank Notre Dame College again for everything that they have done for my family.”
About Notre Dame College
Notre Dame College is a private, Catholic, liberal arts college in South Euclid, Ohio, committed to teaching students how to make a good living and live a good life. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master’s degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. For more information, visit NotreDameCollege.edu.