- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

SALISBURY, Md. — Josh Bentley looks every bit the college student — floppy blond hair sticking out from under a baseball cap, gray T-shirt and jeans with a cell phone clipped in the pocket.

But Josh is nervous about a reporter and photographer following him to class. A media entourage would be a sure tip-off something’s unusual about the sophomore biology major.

“They don’t know I’m 14,” he said.

Josh’s classmates at Salisbury University don’t know that his parents pick him up at the end of the school day, or that he is the youngest student on campus.

He is not the youngest ever to enroll at Salisbury — the university graduated a 14-year-old student in 1996 — and except for a sprinkling of acne, you would never know Josh wasn’t the same age as his classmates.

“It’s no big deal,” Josh said, shrugging off being a decade younger than some undergraduates.

His sprint through school began a long time ago. He didn’t even attend kindergarten, starting school in first grade.

He was home-schooled for a while, then took the ACT in seventh grade, when he was 12.

Josh scored a 28 — an above-average score for a high school senior — then split his time between a Missouri high school and courses at Missouri Southern State University, near his parents’ house.

When his dad’s job brought the family to Berlin, Md., Josh’s mother, Maryne Bentley, asked Salisbury University if Josh could attend. Josh, her oldest of two sons, was always very bright, she said.

Mrs. Bentley remembers story time when Josh was a toddler and attempting a tired parent’s trick of skipping a few paragraphs or pages to get to the end of the story.

“He’d tell me, ‘Mom, you missed that part,’” she recalled. “He was reading at 3 years old.”

But the decision to put him in college full time wasn’t easy, she said.

“It was very hard because you want them to be a kid and you don’t want them to miss out on senior prom and playing football,” she said.

University advisers at first weren’t sure about admitting Josh, said Laura Thorpe, Salisbury’s director of admissions.

“We said that we’d be basing it on academic decisions,” Miss Thorpe said.

When admissions counselors saw the boy’s test scores and transcript, “he fell easily within our range of admissibility,” she said.

When registration day came, university employees were aware a 14-year-old would be among the new students. By the end of the day, though, only Miss Thorpe knew who Josh was.

“No one noticed, because of the way he carries himself, that he’s 14,” she said. “You figure he’s been in college already, he’s probably a little more confident than some 18-year-olds.”

Even his professors weren’t aware they had a young pupil, until campus officials told them.

“I didn’t know he was young,” said Josh’s German professor, Klaudia Thompson. “He looked like the other students in the class. He fit right in.”

Philosophy professor Joerg Tuske said he has never before taught someone so young but that Josh blends in.

“He looks like a freshman,” Mr. Tuske said. “He seems to be holding his own in terms of his ability.”

Josh said he has no regrets about skipping traditional high school. He already attended one part time, and he already has been to prom — twice in Missouri with an older date.

Josh knows he is not a typical college student — his parents won’t even let him on campus during the weekends.

But he dates girls his age he knows through church and is set to finish his bachelor’s degree at 17, before most of his peers pick up high school diplomas.

After he finishes at Salisbury, Josh wants to apply to medical school, “preferably Johns Hopkins,” but he may take a few years off in case medicine programs turn away someone so young.

His little brother Drew, who is 10, is also a standout student. Josh said he wouldn’t blink at encouraging his kid brother to skip to college, too.

“I’d say go for it,” Josh said.

And the advantages of college classes over high school?

“They’re less structured,” he said. “You can wear a hat.”

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