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Jesse dreamed of going to college throughout his high school years in Robstown, Texas. Growing up with six brothers and sisters in a three bedroom/one bathroom house, he was ready to head out into the new freedom life on campus promised. Upon arriving at his choice of university he was told only a very select few would be admitted to the program he wanted, and his advisor suggested he set his sights lower on a technical craft. “That advisor broke my heart,” he said. “It was so discouraging after dreaming of this since 8th grade.” He found himself partying more than attending class, ultimately dropping out altogether. For many years he’d watch a friend or two graduate college, but Jesse didn’t achieve his dream of being the first of his parents' seven children to earn a college degree.
Today, that’s changed, and Jesse is sporting a WGU Texas class ring and is the first in his family to earn a degree, with his diploma proudly framed and hanging on his wall.
His decision to return to school came after being out for a decade or more. Jesse decided to give college another try after getting married and having three children. He had a good job but had taken it as far as he could with the credentials he had. “It used to be working hard was enough, but it’s not anymore.” he said. He enrolled in Del Mar College and earned an associate’s degree. “It was very hard on my family always being away from them. I was never at the dinner table because I had to be on campus. My wife had to take on a lot of extra work at home. But even after earning the associate’s degree, I looked at my job and realized that I had to continue on to earn the bachelor’s degree to be able to apply for the positions I really wanted at my company.”
He started searching for a university with three key criteria in mind. “I had to figure out how I could do this in two to three years, it had to be affordable so I didn’t have to take on student debt, and the university had to have a good reputation. I kept finding two out of three.” He heard about WGU Texas from a coworker who was attending WGU and recommended Jesse call for information. He did, and, pleasantly surprised at finding the three criteria he searched for, he enrolled.
Like the majority of WGU Texas students, Jesse worked full time, and raised a family while enrolled in full-time studies. “I’m not going to tell you this was easy. It was tough. My family and I all made sacrifices,” he said. “But each time I passed an assessment, my wife would have a little family celebration…we’d go out to eat, or get ice cream or something. The kids saw me always studying and they started to really understand the meaning of the successes we were celebrating as I finished a course or passed another assessment. They came to see how much my wife and I value education, and it’s paid off by creating intellectual curiosity in them. My son is in his fifth year now of earning straight A’s. My oldest is in a gifted and talented program. They are smart kids and they picked up on the fact I was studying a lot. I think my going to school at home where they could see me working made them think about school as being more important.” An added bonus was Jesse got to have dinner with his family before turning to his studies each evening.
And to Jesse, it was worth the work to be eligible for consideration of upcoming promotions. “My supervisor told me the only way I can move up is to earn a bachelor’s degree. I could make some lateral moves, but nothing for more pay or responsibility. There is an aging workforce at my company, and across the country. A lot of people with a lot of knowledge are retiring. I see a big gap between the knowledgeable, degreed 50-something worker and the folks like me who have not earned the degree.” Jesse says by earning his degree he can fill the gap created by those with years of service about to retire.
“Working hard just isn’t enough,” he said.” There are men and women at my company who are so knowledgeable they could be teaching classes, but they don’t have a degree and they can’t move up.” Jesse is quick to point out that earning the degree doesn’t take the responsibility for success off of him. “The degree by itself is not enough either it gets me in the door. It gives me a chance to interview for a bigger better job, but it’s up to me to show my skills and my knowledge. But without the degree, I wouldn’t even be considered. I’m excited about the positions opening up at my company in the coming year. I can apply for these now.”
Through hard work and perseverance Jesse earned his B.S. Business Management in a year and a half. And this time the family celebrated by ordering his long-desired class ring. “I am grateful to my mentor who really stayed with me, calling every week, making me show her what I did to move toward the goal so I couldn’t procrastinate or ignore my studies,” he said. “And, most of all, I’m enormously grateful to my wife. I couldn’t have done this without her.”
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