Ph.D. and dream job at age 20

Theresa and Thomas Crouse always knew their son Joseph was self-motivated and determined. The Taneytown residents weren't surprised when he started taking Advanced Placement exams and online college courses while still in high school.

Before they knew it, Joseph Crouse had earned his Associate of Arts from Carroll Community College and a Bachelor of Science from Charter Oak State College before graduating from Francis Scott Key High School in 2011. He was also on his way to earning two master's degrees.

"We're really proud of everything he's done," Thomas Crouse said.

Now, at just 20 years old, their son Joseph Crouse has earned two master's degrees - a Human Sciences master's degree from Hood College and a Master of Business Administration from Frostburg University - and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Nevada.

Crouse started working for a forensic economics consulting company, Vocational Economics Inc., last week.

"I ended up with a Ph.D. before a lot of my friends graduated from college," he said.

During his nearly three years out of high school, Crouse first went to West Virginia University to pursue economics before transferring to the University of Nevada. He decided to take the opportunity to explore life out west.

"The faculty there engaged me with the research right away," he said. "That's something I was really looking for."

In his first semester in Nevada, he took core classes and two field courses, which was atypical, he said. His goal was to get ahead on his research.

He wrote two papers - one on the impact of policing on campus crime and another on the impact of tuition increases on enrollment for community colleges - which ended up being a part of his dissertation. He presented the tuition increase paper this past November at the National Tax Association meetings in Tampa, Florida.

While at the University of Nevada, Crouse taught four classes. During his first one, he remembers how nervous he was.

"I think my face got beet red and all the students were looking at me like, 'Is he really my professor?'" he said. "I think I quickly gained their respect after I started talking and laying down my ground rules for class."

Mark Nichols, professor of economics and Crouse's dissertation adviser, said he's very smart, but more importantly he's ambitious and energetic.

"Much more so than the usual students we have," he said.

As a teacher of undergraduate students, Crouse received the highest evaluations in the economics department.

"It was surprising, of course, how young he is," Nichols said. "His age wasn't an issue."

For his dissertation, Crouse came up with the ideas and found the data.

During the spring semester, he came back to Carroll County and became an adjunct math professor at Carroll Community College while finishing his dissertation.

Crouse said he had been looking forward to starting his job as a labor economist, which is a job he thought would be interesting when he first started in his Ph.D. program, but he thought it wouldn't be possible since he knew that kind of job was rare.

The position, where he is an expert witness in court testifying in cases involving wrongful death and permanent and partial disability, allows him to advocate for the disabled while being intellectually stimulated, Crouse said.

"The other thing that really appealed to me about this job is I will be able to use a lot of my teaching skills when testifying in court," he said. "I'll be able to combine all of my interests very nicely in this job."

Crouse applied to a lot of jobs since October and got five offers. The other four positions were academic jobs. Despite all his accomplishments at such a young age, he said his parents never pushed him in his educational career.

"I've always really liked learning and I've always had a thirst for knowledge," he said.

In high school, he took 18 AP exams and taught himself 14 of those subjects. He touts the benefits of taking advantage of different educational opportunities and working hard.

"Remember that an education is extremely valuable and it can lead to a lot of other fun opportunities later on in life," he said.