In April, the National Student Clearinghouse announced that there are more than 40 million Americans who have some college and no credentials. This number represents more than 15 percent of the U.S. population, greater than the entire population of California.
With such a vast number of learners being left behind by our country’s higher education system, Josie Douyon shares how she made it to college graduation when so many of her peers facing similar challenges never complete their degrees.
Josie graduated with her bachelor’s degree in May 2022 from Duet, Southern New Hampshire University’s degree pathways program in Boston, Massachusetts. Duet provides learners in the Boston area access to SNHU’s competency-based curriculum, intensive academic and career advising, a safe learning space, and at a low cost. To learn more about this program, you can read CHEPP’s Report, The Duet-SNHU Formula: Tackling Time, Cost, and Equitable Outcomes.
As a single mom working two full-time jobs, I was able to finish college and find a career path that works for me and provides a better quality of life for my family and my son. This would not have been possible without Duet and SNHU’s degree pathways program, which allowed me to fit my college studies around my demanding schedule.
But my story does not begin at Duet.
After I graduated from a small private catholic high school, I went to a large public university. Soon after enrolling in college, I became a mom. My new responsibility of caring for my son, along with covering the cost of college and other expenses, caused me a lot of stress and health issues. While I was trying to attend classes on campus and find time to study, I struggled to find affordable child care that worked with my college schedule. Ultimately, these pressures forced me to leave my college program in an effort to make enough money to pay for everything that my son and I needed. After stopping out, I worked two full-time jobs in the hotel and elder home caregiving industries, but despite working 80 or more hours a week, I still struggled to make ends meet. The cost of childcare, countless hours of work, and stress made it impossible to get ahead without a college degree. Unfortunately, scrambling to pay the bills as a single mom made it extremely difficult to even consider going back to college while working — especially given my prior experience with high costs and inflexible class times.
I thought that going back to college meant I would fall further behind, leaving me with more debt and less time to spend with my son. As a salaried worker at a hotel, I often had last-minute changes to my schedule and was required to work overtime. I knew that enrolling in college classes during the day would jeopardize my current job at a time I couldn’t afford to lose money because I was still constantly struggling to make ends meet. But I also knew that it would be difficult to make enough money to cut back on how much I was working without a college degree — it was a vicious cycle.
When someone introduced me to Duet and let me know that I could do college classwork whenever it fit into my schedule, at a low price and with the support of an academic advisor and tutor when I needed it, I decided to try it and enrolled. Because I was able to study around my unpredictable schedule, I quickly progressed through the program. Completing my degree in this way lowered my overall cost, saved me valuable time, and helped me get into a better job even faster.
Once enrolled, I fit my coursework in wherever I could, including studying through the early hours of the morning on my computer and doing coursework from my car during my son’s football practice. There were times when I was still overwhelmed and felt like I couldn’t finish all the requirements. But my academic advisor and coach, Cesar, would consistently check on me, even after business hours, providing me words of encouragement and motivation that truly kept me going. He would help me stay focused on checking off one credit at a time as I moved through the program’s competency-based structure. I stayed even more engaged because both the credits I completed and those I still needed were constantly tracked, meaning I could see my progress in real-time. At one point during the program, my grandmother passed away and I stopped completing my coursework. When Cesar noticed, he proactively reached out and worked with me to ensure that I stayed on track around my schedule. Staying enrolled and completing my degree was easier knowing that I wasn’t alone when things got tough. With the right support, I completed my associate’s degree in less than a year and earned my bachelor’s degree one year after that.
The Duet-SNHU program helped me earn more than a degree. It helped me identify a career path in a field I am interested in, improved my work-life balance, and ultimately led me to a better quality of life overall. After stopping out of college, I needed to find a program that worked for my schedule. I don’t think I am alone in these challenges and know that many students struggle to make a regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. college schedule work for them.
More people who struggle to complete their degree and stop out of college should be able to access higher education programs with the necessary support and program flexibility to meet their needs. I hope that my experience can help others understand that they have options to escape their own hopeless situations and not feel stuck in the same cycle that I was in — working too many hours for just enough pay and struggling to support and spend time with loved ones.