COLUMBIA — On Friday, Taylor Compton drove nine hours to graduate from high school, with 13 other students she'd never met, at a college campus she'd never been to.

Breaking with tradition runs in Compton's family. Her father spent 12 years getting his undergraduate degree and started law school at age 30. Her mother took two years off before getting her undergraduate and law degree. But after she passed the bar and practicing law for a few years, she and Compton's father decided to become traveling professional bridge players. They now own a studio in Dallas dedicated to playing and teaching the card game.

It made sense that their daughter would choose an unconventional high school.

“Growing up seeing that you don’t have to be the norm," Compton said, "I was confident enough to look into it and take it on."

Compton was referring to MU High School, an online education program she graduated from on Saturday. The ceremony in Memorial Student Union's Stotler Lounge was streamed online to 137 other graduates who were not able to attend. The 14 graduates present were ushered down the aisle by a jazz quartet playing "Pomp and Circumstance."

Compton chose MU High School after researching the program and deciding its reputation was among the best of online schools. Best College Reviews, for example, places it in the top ten best online high schools in the country.

MU High School is an accredited high school operated by the MU College of Education. Its curriculum is built to apply to various cultures and countries, Executive Director Zac March said. The program is available to students in all 50 states and 65 countries, and continues to expand.

March said many international students are attracted to the school as an opportunity for English immersion. After studying with MU High School, they're better prepared to study abroad, partially because the program helps them learn English.

In January, the student body doubled from 3,000 students to more than 6,000. Most of those students enrolled through a recent partnership with 56 private schools in Brazil and are working toward a dual diploma. That means they will take a full Brazilian course load on top of the MU High School courses.

"They're raising the bar higher than what we anticipated," March said, adding that those Brazilian students are studying about 12 hours a day.

The high school uses video and discussion boards to connect students around the globe, said Principal Kathryn Fishman-Weaver. She spoke excitedly at the graduation ceremony about their global learning community that "flies in the face" of expectations for online education.

Compton believes online education is on the rise both because of its convenience and its potential to challenge its students.

Although online studying can appear to be isolating, she said she still felt connected to her peers and instructors. She used online boards to comment on other students' work, and was excited to hear different perspectives from people around the world.

Compton finished her high school education in three years while she worked as an intern for two film companies. Online school allowed her to take self-paced classes and tailor her schedule to work towards her dream of getting into film school. She applied to schools in Los Angeles and New York, including New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where the directors Martin Scorsese and Joel Coen received their undergraduate degrees.

She stressed the importance of making school "part of a life," rather than "making school life."

“I still kept school a priority," she said, "but it wasn’t my only priority."

Krista Galyen, director of research and development at MU High School, gave the closing remarks. She and other speakers at the ceremony explained that unclear plans for the future can lead to uncomfortable, yet rewarding, learning situations.

"When you don't know what you're doing," Gaylen said, "it means you're doing something new and exciting."

As for Compton, she will begin the Tisch School of the Arts' undergraduate Film and Television program in the fall.

Supervising editor is Blake Nelson.

  • I am a student reporter at the University of Missouri, studying Journalism with an emphasis in Magazine Writing. Although I call Denver home, and Colorado's mountains keep me wistful to return, Columbia's trails and sense of community are refreshing.

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