Sixto Torres, who travels the country as a successful expansion advocate for a fast-growing technology business, looks back and laughs at his teenaged fears about entering Lorain County Community College’s Early College High School program.
Back then, the middle schooler from a single-parent home in Lorain preferred a “normal high school” experience. But Torres’ mother, Margie, lauded the merits of LCCC’s Early College program and insisted her son could benefit from it. Torres could easily be bused to and from school, tuition was free and, when the four years were up, not only would he have earned his high school diploma, he would also have earned an associate degree, giving him a two-year head start on a four-year bachelor’s program — and a break on its costs.
Torres wasn’t convinced then, but today he says that the decision to enroll in LCCC’s Early College High School program changed his life.
“LCCC was the start of everything,” he says. “These are things I didn’t appreciate until much later — the difference between $30,000 in college loans and $80,000. The opportunity to study abroad because of that cost savings. Now I understand how much it helped me in every step. I discovered things I wouldn’t have even looked into.”
It’s a common experience for those who apply themselves in the program. Funded by Knowledge Works and local school districts, LCCC’s Early College targets first-generation college and low-income students, giving them the opportunity to accelerate the path to a college degree.
“We pay for their college courses while they’re here,” says Brenda Owens, a school counselor and college transition advisor for LCCC’s Early College High School. “Students come from all over — every school district from Avon Lake to Wellington is represented. A lot of our students come from families that have experienced poverty, trauma and disruption in the educational process, so they have a lot of challenges. It’s not that they don’t want help; they don’t know where to start.”
A positive influence makes all the difference
Torres was an admitted “wild child” when he enrolled at LCCC.
“I was never into anything really bad like drugs or alcohol,” he says. “Just shenanigans. A lot of shenanigans.”
He remembers, for instance, the time he grabbed the microphone at a leadership conference attended by a WNBA basketball player and challenged her to a game of one-on-one. But the point is, LCCC staff believed in him enough to send him to those leadership conferences in the first place. The college’s teachers and counselors saw something special in Torres and gave him every chance to make the most of it.
As his schooling shifted toward college coursework in the latter half of his time at LCCC, Torres learned not just from books but from sharing a classroom with adult students. The experience matured him, and shortly before his graduation from Early College in 2011, he achieved something he would never have even considered before — acceptance into Baldwin Wallace University, where he studied abroad and earned his bachelor’s degree in international business. That was followed by an MBA in global business from Case Western Reserve University in 2015; since then, he’s obtained a Six Sigma green belt certification, and certification as a supply chain analyst and — his favorite, scuba diver.
Looking forward, he hopes to one day run hisown company.
“I’m setting my own trend, where, if I make it hard on myself now and do the difficult work, I’ll either continue to do that and keep acquiring these skills, or there will be one point where it will be easier and I can enjoy all the fruits of my labor,” he says. “But I’d rather do this now than take it easy.”
The LCCC advantage paves the way to a bright future
Today Torres works for Carvana, a Phoenix-based online-only car dealer that allows customers to shop, finance and trade in cars through its website. Torres was recently promoted to a role in which he travels the country opening new offices, training people and supporting growth in existing markets.
That empowerment is reminiscent of the opportunities LCCC afforded him, and when Early College High School counselors like Owens hear stories like his, they know the program is achieving its goals.
“It’s just like … wow!” Owens says. “You always felt like there was something special about that student. And it makes you so happy they came to us.”
With about 330 students enrolled in LCCC’s Early College High School, a low student-to-counselor ratio allows staff to nurture students, and exposure to a college campus eases the transition to a four-year program.
“They already know what’s going to be expected of them when they go to college,” Owens says. “In a high school program, they might take a challenging class, but they’ve got to get used to a whole new culture when they go to college — especially for a first-generation student who doesn’t know how it works. A program like this is really invaluable.”
Torres couldn’t agree more. He recommended the program to his younger sister, Leanna, who graduated from LCCC’s Early College High School in 2016 and is now attending Bowling Green State University, and would do so to any student growing up in similar circumstances. And if he could go back in time, he would whole-heartedly recommend it to his younger, unsure self.
“Take the opportunity and trust that there will be more,” he says. “Don’t worry about missing out on everything in high school, because you’re going to get everything and then some.”