What it Takes To Return: Adults in Higher Education—Part 1
All Podcasts

What it Takes To Return: Adults in Higher Education—Part 1

Millions of adults in the US have some college credit but never finished their degree. The path back into school a second time is much harder to navigate.  We begin a two-part series by talking with adult students and their coaches to learn about what it takes to return to school.  Listen as Juquilla Henry, her coach April Mesa, and Jamar Izzard share their stories of returning to higher education.

Show Links:

0:00 0:00

If you're on the go, catch us wherever audio podcasts are found.

Episode 36

What it Takes To Return: Adults in Higher Education—Part 1

On podcast episode 36, Juquilla Henry, her coach April Mesa, and Jamar Izzard share their stories of returning to higher education.

Show transcript

0:00:08.8 Dakota Pawlicki: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, the show about learning after high school brought to you by Lumina Foundation. The number of Americans that have some college credit, but have not completed a degree or a credential has been rapidly increasing over the past few years. A July 2020 report from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that the some college, no degree population has grown to 39 million Americans. 39 million people is about one out of every four adults in the United States. And even more concerning is that this group grew by 9% between 2018 and 2020, and many researchers are fearing the worst, as we continue to learn about the impact of the pandemic. Students stop out of college for dozens of reasons, most of which have very little to do with their inability to learn; family life, accidents, illness, working full-time, finances, and so much more can make a student discontinue from their college pursuit.


0:01:05.9 DP: And what are they left with? Credit that counts for very little, no credential that can be used to get a well paying job, and oftentimes considerable debt for something that they will never see a return on. This month we’re splitting our show into two parts, letting us deeply explore the reasons that people stop out and what it takes to bring them back. On part two, we’re gonna talk with nonprofits and college leaders working hard to support students back into, through college and into employment. But today on part one, we start with the learners themselves who stopped out and are making their journey back into school. Later on this show, we’ll talk with Jamar Izzard from Philadelphia who returned to complete his bachelor’s degree after being out of college for 20 years. But first we go to Fort Myers, Florida and meet Juquilla Henry and her FutureMaker advisor, April Mesa. Juquilla talks about the challenges she faced trying to re-enroll in school and the kind of support she needed from her navigator April. Let’s get started.




0:02:05.0 DP: Well, thank you both for spending some time with me today, and Juquilla I wanna start straight with you. I’ve recently heard that you just re-enrolled, congratulations. I’m super pumped for you.


0:02:18.0 Juquilla Henry: Thank you. Thank you. So am I.


0:02:21.1 DP: Yeah. And you were saying… We were just chatting briefly off camera and you were saying just like, classes have already started and the long days, but it’s been 20 plus some years since you’ve been in school. Is that right?


0:02:31.2 JH: Yes. It has been 20 some years. It’s kinda like a refresher. So I would say my first day I was a little bit anxious, nervous, scared all at the same time, but this is my second week. Everything is great. It’s a lot of work, I get frustrated at times, but I mean, I feel like in the end everything is gonna be all worth it.


0:03:07.3 DP: So I wanna go back maybe 20 years ago or so, if that’s the right timing. Did you… Were you in college at one point in time then had to stop out?


0:03:17.9 JH: No, I wasn’t in college. I actually… I dropped out my senior year of high school. I dropped out my senior year and I was in a program and I met April and right now I’m in the process of getting my GED and I’m in a technical college right now.


0:03:46.1 DP: Great.


0:03:47.1 JH: So it’s all been a journey for me, a little bit of a journey for me.


0:03:51.8 April Mesa, FutureMakers Coalition: Tell me, why did you originally drop out of… Stopped going to high school?


0:04:00.0 JH: I was young. I was just… I just… You know how you are when you are young. I just… My head wasn’t there. It wasn’t that I couldn’t, I just made the choice I just didn’t want to, but now that I see and I have kids of my own and my kids have their high school diploma, I feel like that’s something that I need to establish for myself as well. I feel like I need my high school diploma as well.


0:04:26.9 AC: It’s just nice to me that you have kids that have their high school diploma, how long after you dropped out did you start… Did you have kids?


0:04:36.3 JH: I didn’t have a kid till I was 20 years old. So I had my first kid at 20 and to this day, neither one of my kids know that I don’t have a high school diploma. They still don’t know. So I try to take the next steps to try to get my GED. So in my process with me trying to go back to school, I went to a college here to try to see if I could get some assistance and see if I could get help ’cause I wanted to go back. And they told me that I could get my high school diploma and my CNA, it’d be all in one program. And they told me that I would have to pay like $18,000. And that really had me in my feelings. It had me down because I’m a single black mom. I have four kids, where am I gonna get $18,000 from? And that really had me like down and out. I was really, really depressed about that because I said like… I was like, “I’m trying, and I wanna do this. I want my education. I want a better life for me and my kids.” And I went in to speak with a caseworker and he introduced me to April. And from that point on it was go, it was… I mean, she got me connected with people. She helped me sign up for school. I mean, it’s just been great ever since I met her.


0:06:20.5 DP: Yeah. And I kind of wanna focus in on that part… So you approached the private college first and said, “Hey, I wanna go back. I wanna get put on this healthcare pathway, and get my CNA.” Obviously, massive sticker shock, right? I mean, it’s expensive, where am I gonna get this money from? You got referred over to April. I have to imagine though, I mean, when we’re navigating a lot of different systems and offices, it can be frustrating to kind of be passed around, “Oh, talk to this person, talk to that one.” What were your… Before even meeting April, you’re there with a caseworker and someone says, “Oh, go talk to these Future Maker reconnect people.” What were your expectations? What’d you think?


0:07:00.2 JH: Honestly… To be honest, I thought that… At first I thought… I was like, “Maybe it’s gonna be… ” I was like, “Maybe this is a bunch of crap. I don’t know, but I’m gonna give it a shot. I’m gonna go and see what she’s talking about.” And before I could reach out to her, she reached out to me and I was surprised, she reached out to me and she stayed on top of me, anything that I needed, any questions that I had, whether it was morning, noon or night… And she answered, she responded. She would… I mean, even if it was just that, “Everything’s gonna be okay, take a deep breath… ” I mean, she’s just always been just positive to me. And I appreciate that. And I felt like I really needed that because the way that I was feeling from the college that I went to, I really felt like I didn’t have a chance and like I wanted to give up.


0:08:01.2 DP: Absolutely. I mean… And April, I know one of the things that we talked about is that, you did such a good job in terms of helping really sequence things out because, suddenly you have a first meeting and you’re saying, “Okay, let’s get you into a different higher institution that actually can meet your needs, way more affordable.” But immediately, to get you started, it’s a massive checklist, and I actually wrote it down, what you all shared with me. I mean, you have to start getting a lot of things in order, just to enter into that CNA program, you have to get your immunization records, you have to get your Titer tests and the COVID vaccine and drug screen and background checks and the FAST Fund and the applications. So April, walk us through that. I mean, yeah, it’s a lot of steps, how do you go about that to make sure it doesn’t feel so overwhelming?


0:08:53.0 AC: You know, that’s the problem that a lot of people get to is that they get to that spot where they’re given the list of steps and they just look at it and it’s just, it’s too much. And I have to add this on top of the list of steps… List of tasks that I have to do every day, especially as a mom of four kids, that’s already working full time. So it’s easy to say, “It’s too much, forget it.” So, what I do is just break it down. I took screenshots of her list that she left from the school with. I took a screenshot of the list of to-do things that she left career source with. And I’m like, “Okay, I’m focusing on this. You just focus on the first step. And then once that’s complete, we go to number two and I will keep the task list and we’ll check everything off as it gets done.”


0:09:39.7 AC: And as she started knocking one thing out, and the other thing out, and a third thing off the list, she started getting more and more excited and confident. It was not so daunting anymore. It’s, “I could do this and this isn’t… I just have to take one step at a time. And that’s all it really is.” When we first started working together, she said that she knew that she could not see herself working, going to a program that was longer than the CNA six week course. And after like… Just recently, we were talking and she was saying that she could see herself going as far as RN, because she has support… She has the support system that she could lean on. She knows that she can text me or call me whenever she has a question or feels overwhelmed. She has a job… An employer that is supportive. She has a school that is super supportive, so that’s what people need, you know? People just need to have that support and to know that they’re not alone, ’cause if you’re alone trying to deal with that task list, just forget it.


0:10:39.7 DP: Yeah. And I definitely wanna get to some of the employer support, ’cause I know that’s coming in, but before we even get there, Juquilla, I wanna come back to you ’cause I remember… God I can’t remember, it was a job I had not that long ago and they needed my immunization records, and I didn’t have ’em. I had to like call my old high school and like some summer intern or high school student who was working there who had to like go into like the vault and like dig through boxes. I mean, you had been out of high school for 20 years. I gotta imagine that some of those records… I guess, are there things that you had to dig up that were just insurmountably more difficult.


0:11:17.2 JH: Actually, they couldn’t even… With my immunization record because it was so old, they was like, basically like it didn’t exist anymore. So, they couldn’t even go back that far. So all they could go back to was 2007. So I’m like, “Oh gosh. So I have to get all of this all over again,” because they didn’t even have record of it. So they couldn’t dig it up. They couldn’t do none of that. So past like a certain point, like there’s like… It can’t be brought up… They can’t find it past a certain point. So I had to go get all those immunizations all over again.


0:12:01.7 DP: I mean, is the same thing true when it came to things like transcripts? I mean… And really what I’m getting at here is, a lot of colleges want to help adults, working moms like you re-enroll in some kind of program, but yet haven’t yet changed the admission systems to kind of reflect the reality of someone’s life. And so I think it’s interesting to hear from someone like you who has… 20 years later is going to finish that high school equivalency, and then go into the CNA program. Are there things that you just thought, “Gosh, why am I even submitting this? Like, it’s such a pain to go back and get it, do you really need it?”


0:12:43.1 JH: Yes… There was one point when I felt like, “This is just too much, like they putting me through too much. I wanna like… ” I felt like I didn’t wanna do it anymore ’cause I felt like it was too much. But once again, April was there to like give me the push, and encouragement, the motivation that I needed. So, I mean… Like she said, we went knocking things off the list… One thing at a time. And then finally, I mean, everything was complete. I didn’t think it was gonna be possible, but it was possible. It got completed. And then after we got everything completed, I got a job offer from the hospital and I wasn’t even… I already enrolled in school, but they offered me a job. And then they offered to pay for me to go to school, pay for me to go to school. Basically, I’m earning while I’m learning. So that’s awesome as well. So I got to go to school. I got to get a job that… Something that I always wanted, I got to make money, provide a better life for my kids. And I mean, everything’s been great. I’m so thankful and blessed to have gone through what I’ve gone through to get to where I am now.


0:14:09.3 DP: Yeah. I mean, you were sharing with me that… So, okay. You’ve finished all these application steps. You’re like, “I cannot believe this endless list is actually complete.”


0:14:19.4 JH: Yes.


0:14:19.6 DP: You’re feeling on top of the world, but you had currently a job, and then they had said that they weren’t gonna work with the schedule. Is that right? And that’s what…


0:14:26.3 JH: Yes.


0:14:26.3 DP: Kind of prompted you to go…


0:14:27.7 JH: Yeah, that’s what I was… I was stressed out about that because I’m standing in the back of my mind like, “I’m trying to better myself, so why wouldn’t they accommodate the schedule with me trying to go to school?” And I talked to April. I was stressed out about it. I talked to her and she said, “Hey, why don’t you apply to the hospital?”


0:14:54.7 AC: Lee Health.


0:14:55.0 DP: Yeah, Lee Health.


0:14:55.5 JH: Lee Health… “Why don’t you apply to Lee Health?” So I did. And not even three days, I got a phone call and they wanted me for an interview. I went in for the interview. I interviewed with four RNs and one of the RNs was a neuro nurse… She was supervisor on the fourth floor, which is the neuro department. And she… I told her that my mom had had a stroke two years prior and she was on that floor. So I told her that I had a good experience with the hospital and that they treated my mom good. And if I had the opportunity, that that’s the floor that I would wanna work on. And she told me that she liked my attitude. And she liked my work ethics. And she said that someone will call me. So maybe two days later, I didn’t get a call. I got an email saying, “Congratulations,” that I was hired. And I started July… I wanna say a week before I started school. I started on the fourth floor out as a CNA trainee. And everybody’s been great. Everybody’s been helpful, they’re working with my school schedule and I’m happy, I’m the happiest person alive.


0:16:29.7 AC: I’m so excited that Juquilla persevered, especially when it got super tough and she wanted to give up, she knew that there are hoops that you have to jump through. This school is providing you with a certificate that’s gonna give you a career that you have under your belt, and nobody can take away from you. There are certain hoops we have to jump through. You have to prove that you have certain immunizations. You have to have the background check, the drug screen. Like they are… We have to jump through the hoops. There is no magic secret. I can’t just say dippity do da, and now you don’t have to do these things. We have to go through… We have to go through the obstacles. We have to jump through the hoops and I’m gonna arm her with the resources and the supports that she needs to get it done. And after she put in some of the hard work, great things started happening, this Earn While You Learn program that she was offered to be a part of, this really reinvigorated her, and then it was just one good thing after the other. Then when the problem came with her employer, I just reminded her that employees have power today. Employers need to support their employees and they need to show that they are for the employees and they wanna help you grow. So she went… I just said, “I know about employers that do wanna help you grow. So let’s apply there and see if you can get a position there.”


0:17:45.0 AC: And then that’s what started this connection to the Earn While You Learn program. So there’s just a lot of great opportunities out there. And my job is to go out there and learn about them and bring them in front of people that can use them like Juquilla. So I’m just really happy that it worked out well.


0:18:00.4 DP: Yeah, April, I mean, that’s such a good point. I mean, I’ll say I have never met a single mother of four that does not have grit and perseverance and tenacity, right? I mean, and it’s funny because, we talk about… A lot of folks say, “Well, if students just had more perseverance, we need to focus on soft skills so they can actually get in system,” but that’s not the problem. The problem is what you’ve just illuminated, that there are lots of steps. Sometimes there are obstacles and hurdles, other times they’re necessary steps, sure, and then there’s also a lot of ways that the system doesn’t work very well… A CNA program or an education program schedule might not fit in with every employer schedule.


0:18:45.0 DP: And so now we’re constantly searching for employment and, Juquilla, it’s amazing. I mean, here you are basically walking in digital eye, brand new job, in an education program but April, I wanna come back to you just briefly because, what is sticking out to me so clearly is, your role in this to try to make the system work better. You knew that there were job openings at Lee Health, you were aware of the Learn And Earn program. How is it that your organization, really brings these folks together to know about all these? I mean, obviously you’re not just sitting there Googling things like these are clear partners of yours. Do I have that right?


0:19:26.3 AC: Yeah. Yes. For sure. For sure. Because our organization is at, is a network. We have a network of 251 active individual partners. We are partners with more than 140 organizations in Southwest Florida. So we have a network of people that help to support us that actively call themselves FutureMakers. If I come up with a problem and I don’t know how to fix it, which I don’t know how to fix all the problems, but I have people that I can lean on that can help me, you know, figure out what else is out there. So part of what I do is going out there to the community resources, to the employers, to the schools and learning about what you guys have to offer today. But, you know, a lot of it comes from, me, myself. I was an adult learner. I had to go back to school as an adult working full-time. I did two classes at a time. I was originally in school to be an, to be a teacher. I was in the elementary education program. The last semester of that program, you have to be in school Monday through Friday, the whole time the teachers are internship. Like it’s an internship, so you’re not paid. I was working Monday through Friday. So it was either like start working overnight Monday through Friday while I do that or switch my program. So I ended up switching my program to something a bachelor’s degree that I could complete at the time that I could do it because I was an adult working.


0:20:47.1 DP: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And, you know, I think sometimes that lived experience is, too often overlooked, but it’s so important, when trying to reveal places in the system where there’s really an opportunity for real improvement. You know, so Juquilla, you know, I just want to kinda close out the story, before we get into some of the, bigger picture things, you know what I mean, so, you know, you have a new job. You’ve started classes. Where, where are you today? And what does the immediate future look like for you?


0:21:16.6 JH: The, immediate future looks great. I plan on finishing, my CNA program and my next step is I’m gonna, take the, I’m gonna get in the RN program. So it looks very promising.


0:21:33.8 DP: That’s great. And what are your classes like now?


0:21:37.3 JH: My classes are Monday through Friday, from 8:00 until 2:30. Very heavy workload. But, I’m managing it. I’m managing it.


0:21:50.7 DP: That’s, really impressive. It’s highly impressive. I mean, like, you know, I can barely juggle my normal job. I don’t have any kids. Like, I just… True. It’s amazing what you’re doing and I guess that’s, you know, one of the things I want to kind of ask about, you know, we’ve heard your story, you know, coming back after 20 years, finishing that high school diploma, you know, onto a post signal pathway, you have a new job, you’re part of a Learn To Earn work program. You know, you’re having some of your tuition offset. I mean, you know, you’re really on this great pathway, but you know, it’s been hard to get there, right? I mean, we just heard about all the steps and all the processes.


0:22:26.8 JH: Yeah. It has been a struggle.


0:22:27.9 DP: What’s motivated you, what drives you to do this?


0:22:32.5 JH: My motivation is my kids, my kids and my mom. That’s, my motivation. My mom is my motivation for the medical field, because I want to learn, you know, as much as I can learn, due to her situation, my kids is… My kids are my motivation, because I want them to have a better life than what I had. I don’t want them to have to struggle. I don’t want them to have to, you know, have to wonder where, where I’m gonna get this from. How I’m gonna do this, how I’m gonna do that. I don’t want them to go through that.


0:23:02.4 DP: As you’re going, as you’re going through this too, I have to imagine that you, you know, had an idea of what the process would be like, you know, you hear like, okay, I can go back and there’s a program. I can go get my high school diploma and get this CNA. You know, you had in your mind’s eye, even before you met April, you know, you went to that first college to check out an option. How did you think the process was going to work versus what you actually experienced?


0:23:30.5 JH: I honestly didn’t… I didn’t think that I was gonna go through what I did. I mean, I was, when the guy said, you know, it’s gonna be $18,000. I thought I was gonna lose my mind because I was like, ain’t no way, you know, ain’t no way I’m gonna have to pay $18,000 to get a high school diploma. I just didn’t think it. You know, I mean, like I said, you know, April made me, like, she basically, she gave me hope because I was gonna give up. I honestly was gonna give up, but she gave me hope.


0:24:05.5 DP: Yeah. I mean, it’s good to have, you know, someone right alongside with you, through that whole process, which I got to imagine, too, is something maybe different that you might not have expected?


0:24:17.8 JH: Yeah. I know she got tired of me calling her and texting her, like, April, [laughter]


0:24:24.6 AC: No I’m so happy to, I’m so happy to provide that support for somebody. ‘Cause I wish I could have had that when I was going to school. So, you can text me, call me all…


[overlapping conversation]


0:24:33.0 JH: And that’s the first thing that she said, that’s the first thing that she said. I remember when I first, when we first, we met, we came here to the Colaboratory and she and that’s the first thing she said to me. She’s like, you know, she’s like, I wish I had someone, you know, when I was going to school, you know, to support, you know, support me and talk to me and give me advice, you know? And she, like, she didn’t have that. And that’s, the first thing. And that’s what I’mma always remember what she said.


0:25:02.4 DP: What did that do for you? What’d that mean to you?


0:25:04.0 JH: I mean, it gave me hope, you know, like, okay. Like, there are actually people out here that want to help that want to help you, that want to see you do better that want to see you achieve things. It gave me… ‘Cause I feel like I feel like that nobody want to help me that nobody want to see me do better. That was my attitude until I met April.


0:25:27.2 DP: Where do you think that comes from?


0:25:30.0 DP: I mean, my childhood, the like the way I grew up, you know.


0:25:39.5 JH: But meeting her it gave me that positive outlook on life, like okay, there are good people. That’s gotta be a breath of fresh air every now and then.


0:25:51.3 JH: Yeah, it is. It really is.


0:25:54.6 AC: Yeah, so many people have that negative association with higher education because they think that it’s a school, it’s a business, they only care about money. I always wanted to be a teacher growing up and I went through that same feeling and thought what the heck is going on here? Does anybody here care about the actual student and now working and visiting all those schools, people do care about the students.


0:26:18.1 JH: Yeah, they do.


0:26:20.1 AC: They do. And these experiences that you’ve lived and have made you feel biased in a certain way, like as if nobody cares, you lived these experiences and they made you feel this way, but I’m really glad that you can open… See that that is not the way that everybody is. The schools around here are awesome and they have really great support staff.


0:26:39.5 JH: Yeah, they are. They are.


0:26:42.5 AC: You can lean on them, you can count on them, and we’re here too as an additional support. So I’m really glad that we were both able to see that there’s more out there.


0:26:55.1 JH: April, I know you’re fairly new as a navigator for students and adult students who wanna reconnect and how many students do you support and how common are some of the challenges that Juquilla has just talked about, that you are finding yourself having to resolve? We constantly talk about the problems that we’re solving and solving over and over again. We’re not actually dissolving them, right? We’re just constantly resolving them with every new person. How many students are you supporting and how common are some of the challenges that you’ve had to continue solve over and over again?


0:27:32.7 AC: So the program launched in January, and right now we’re currently at 188 adult learners that we’re helping to actively get back into the class, stay in and complete their program, whether it’s a skills or trade certificate, a degree, any type of schooling, their GED, their English classes, we’re helping them to go from that first step as far as they wanna go. And the supports that we offer look different for different people. A lot of people need help with just the application and enrollment process. Completing the FAFSA is a huge barrier for so many people. I know so many extremely educated parents that struggled big time completing the FAFSA with their kids. I know parents that left scholarships completely on the table because they said I can’t get that FAFSA done. So we’re gonna help you get whatever application for the school, application for the financial aid, we’ll help you find the scholarships.


0:28:35.5 AC: A lot of what we help with is that often. Unfortunately now I am having more and more… Right now I have a handful of homeless students. So I try to help them connect to resources. So we’re not inventing programs. There’s a lot of great programs that already exist, we don’t need to invent them, but we’re connecting people to them. And so I have a list of things that we help with, but I always tell people, this is just very little of… A very short list because we will literally do whatever you need to get your credentials. Sometimes you think that there’s not help for you out there, but there’s something out there for everybody. We just have to find it and we wanna get it to you.


0:29:23.6 DP: Yeah, absolutely. And I think what’s something… The just tracking what you’re talking about here, there’s folks who say, well, wait a minute, isn’t that the job of the college or the high school? Like we have all these counselors and we have admissions counselors and things like that, but of the list of things, yes, of course you help many adults navigate an admissions process and make sure they submit all the materials that they need and help them find it, but you’ve also just listed out how your role is very unique being at the kind of center of everything that a person might need. I mean, it’s not just about getting into college, right? It’s hey, you need to have maybe a different job, or a job in the first place to make sure you’re still supporting yourself and your family. Housing support, food access support, you mentioned small dollar amounts to release transcripts and fees and scholarship navigations. So yeah, I think that’s just something that’s important to underscore for those who might be less familiar with, well, why does it take an external navigator at a 501c3 nonprofit organization to ensure more people get on an application pathway and into higher education?


0:30:40.1 AC: I’ll tell you why, because if you wanna see an academic advisor at a certain school, you usually have to already be enrolled in that school to be able to have an appointment and sit with an academic advisor. So I don’t work for a school. I’m not biased, you see when Juquilla went and visited that private school, they didn’t tell her that, oh, that’s too much for you. You can’t afford it. Guess what? There’s other options out there. They didn’t tell her that because they didn’t want her to take one of the other options. They wanted her to go there. I don’t care where she goes. I want her to go to the best place that is gonna make sense for her, for her schedule, that’s gonna get her where she needs to go. So I wanna get the information, I have no bias, and I’m gonna bring it to her, all the opportunities available to get her where she wants to go. So that is one reason that an outside navigator is super helpful.


0:31:28.1 DP: Absolutely. Well, before we wrap up, Juquilla, I just wanna ask you one more question.


0:31:34.6 JH: Okay.


0:31:35.3 DP: I gotta imagine that you’re telling your friends and maybe some of your family about what you’re doing. I mean, you’re someone who’s making big life changes, suddenly it’s boom July, and you’re in a new job, what sounds like a great job with Lee Health and on your way to becoming a CNA and then eventually RN and on your way to get your high school diploma, you’re also enrolled in these programs, what do you tell your friends and family and what do they think about what you’re doing?


0:32:06.8 JH: Everybody has… My family has been very supportive, they’re very proud of me, especially my sisters being that I’m the oldest, so everybody under me they have their high school diploma and they’re just excited for me to complete my journey, but I have a great support system.


0:32:30.2 DP: Anyone think you’re crazy for doing all this?


0:32:33.2 JH: No, no. [laughter] No, no. My son did at first he was like, “Mom, why are you going back to school?” I was like, “this is something that I gotta do for me, baby. It’s something I need to do for me.”


0:32:48.0 DP: And when you complete, what do you hope that your kids might say?


0:32:50.2 JH: Yeah. “Mom, I’m, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you.” That’s all I want.


0:32:58.4 AC: They’re so proud of you.


0:33:01.4 JH: That’s all I want. Yeah.


0:33:02.3 DP: Well…


0:33:02.8 AC: They’re so proud of you and you’re showing your grandson and your kids that you don’t stop until you go… Until you are where you want to be.


0:33:11.4 JH: That’s right. That’s right. You gotta keep going. No matter how old you get, no matter how old you get, you gotta keep going.


0:33:18.8 AC: Absolutely It’s never too late.


0:33:21.3 JH: Never.


0:33:21.7 DP: Um, and, and I just wanna say, congratulations, it’s a huge…


0:33:24.6 JH: Thank you.


0:33:26.0 DP: Massive accomplishment. And, uh, clearly, uh, we’re all gonna be… You know, we’re already proud of you and can’t wait to celebrate along with you.


0:33:34.3 JH: Thank you.


0:33:34.6 DP: As you have finished the CNA work and then move right on to your next adventure.


0:33:38.8 JH: Yeah. That’s Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


0:33:42.4 DP: Yeah, absolutely. Um, and April, if folks, wanna learn more about the FutureMakers coalition and, and your reconnect program, where should they go?


0:33:53.7 AC: Yes, that’s awesome. You just go to our website, www.futuremakerscoalition.com/navigators, and you can hit get started and you get connected to a navigator and we’ll reach out to you right away, learn about where you are, where you wanna be and help you make a plan to get there.


0:34:11.7 DP: Wonderful. Well, I do hope more folks come in and check you out and get the kind of help. I mean, April, you’re just… I don’t know. You sound and feel like every coach we could ever want for everybody and you know…


0:34:29.4 JH: Yes, she is. [chuckle]


0:34:30.1 DP: You know, that…


0:34:30.2 AC: I, I really love what I do. I don’t regret any of the experiences I’ve had because they make me as passionate for this job. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be. And there’s so many people in this community that just need this support to get to where they wanna be. So the sky is the limit with this program. I can… I’m so excited to be with it, and I’m so excited for everybody that’s gonna join us.


0:34:50.7 DP: Yeah. Your enthusiasm’s very, very clear. And I’m just happy to have met both of you and thank you so much for spending some time and, and sharing your stories with us and, and with the world. And know that you’re making a difference every day and we’re just really excited, to keep following your trajectory. And hopefully we can check back in maybe in a year’s time when you’re running that floor Juquilla, and, you know, wherever your adventure leads you.


0:35:17.8 JH: Thank you so much.


0:35:18.7 AC: Absolutely.


0:35:19.6 DP: Yeah. Wonderful. Okay.


0:35:21.1 AC: Awesome.


0:35:21.1 DP: Well, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you guys next time.


0:35:23.6 JH: Thank you so much.


0:35:39.0 Jamar Izzard: Thank you for having me.


0:35:40.1 DP: Yeah, I’m so excited to dig in, you know, you and I were just briefly chatting and, you know, if you don’t mind, I’d love to kind of start, you know, way back whenever, when was, going back to high school and, and just… I know that you decided to go to college at one point in time and eventually kind of made your way back around 20 years later, but let’s go back in time and start from, did you always intend to go to school post high school? What was that like for you?


0:36:10.7 JI: Um, I thought it was, I don’t, I don’t think it was like around me far as in high school. It was never pushed for me to go to college. It was more or less going to the working field or whatever, but I always had interest in going to college. One, because I was the first one to graduate high school in my family, and I would’ve been the first one to attend and graduate college in my family’s history. So I definitely had, you know, that interest myself.


0:36:32.1 DP: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So you’re the first person, you’re a first generation college goer. Did you end up going to college right after high school?


0:36:42.5 JI: Immediately? Yes, I couldn’t wait. Immediately, just once I graduated, I attended Chan university and I ended up transferring to Westchester university, and made it to my junior year and unfortunately during my junior year, I got in a car accident, and I had to sit out and unfortunately me sitting out turned from one year to almost 20 years later, so it was, it was a long process, long process.


0:37:08.0 DP: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and that’s the story for so many folks, it’s a one speed bump, not to torture a car accident analogy here, but, one obstacle can really, set us apart, as you think back to, that time in your life, did you feel like, you were doing well in college at the time, like going on through junior year? Like, what was that transition like for you?


0:37:30.8 JI: Well, initially when I got to college, I did struggle. I did struggle ’cause my high school experience wasn’t that great. I was scared to go to college. So just because of the curriculum and such, but once I got there and I started to, go after my first year and my second year, then once I made it to my junior year, I feel as though I was doing well, my GPA, well I think at the time was like a 3.5, so I really put in the work and, I was feeling good about myself. I was feeling good about graduating in the future within that year.


0:38:00.8 DP: Yeah. So you get in this car accident, like you said, as you thought, maybe you’d be out for a short amount of time, but ended up being a little bit longer. What happened during that time?


0:38:11.2 JI: I was recovering and once I got a chance to recover, fortunately within a couple of years I ended up still getting a internship in my field, which was communications at the time. And once I got an internship, I was offered a job within six months, and I started working in my field when, in radio. And I got in radio and worked in all the little departments, and worked extremely hard. And later on, I became an on air personality and I was there for 2 years, a little over 2 years, I think. Yeah, so life happened.


0:38:45.8 DP: Yeah. You know, it’s funny because we often, say, “Hey, listen, go to college, get the degree, get the credential you need so you can work the job that you have.” And then suddenly here you find yourself, wait a minute, I kind of work in the job that I wanted. When did it… When did you start thinking about, wait, maybe I do want to go back and complete my degree.


0:39:08.8 JI: Well, that was… Although I’ve had success in my career. I did reach a point to where I feel as though I couldn’t move as far as I wanted to without a degree, because I was looking at possibly becoming a future general manager and such, but I knew I couldn’t get there without my degree. And also was always in the back of my mind that I needed to finish this degree. I needed to make this happen. And even though I was out so long, in my family, no one still graduated college. So I always felt like I was the leader of at least my cousins and my siblings. So I also had to set that example and then later in life I had kids, so it made me wanna do it, but throughout my career and wanting to move forward, I kept hitting a roadblock. And then in the back of my mind, I knew I had to finish.


0:39:57.9 DP: What were some of those roadblocks, ’cause this is something we hear often from folks who returned, they… For a variety of reasons they end up leaving college before completing a degree or a credential. They get working and do really well in their career, but they kind of experience this time where it says, “Okay you know here’s an instance when I really had to go back.” What were some of those moments where you kind of realized, wait, in order for me to get the promotion, the next job, the thing that I want to do next, I need to get a degree. Are there specific stories that come to mind?


0:40:31.5 JI: Well, yeah. I would say when you’re trying to go at a position and you may have experience, way more experience than other people that’s applying for the job. This is my personal experience. Way more experience than other people going after the job. But the difference between us two is that they have the credentials. And even though they may have had that maybe one or two, three years experience, and I had maybe eight at the time. I was often overlooked because I didn’t have the necessary credentials. And it was… I was heartbroken quite a few times over that. And it made me say, “Hey, I gotta go after this.” I remember one time I was trying to go after this position at the station. It was a management position, and someone at the station also was applying. But the difference is that she had her degree and I did not. And she got hired and I had to sit back and watch her do her job. I was helpful as much as possible and I was very happy for her, but I also felt a little pain myself that I didn’t get it.


0:41:33.4 DP: Yeah. You come to this decision to decide to go back to school and complete that degree. How did that feel? Was it like a kind of a scary feeling, a daunting feeling, did you just wake up one day and be like, this is what I’m doing, let’s go? [chuckle]


0:41:50.3 JI: Well, it was overwhelming. It was a lot to think about, because we’re talking about 20 years later, I didn’t have these gray hairs then, and we’re talking about, I was married, I ended up having kids, I had adult bills, mortgage, car payment, all of the above. So it’s just like, I wanna make this move, but how do I make this move without interrupting my family life. And we had to sit down, me and my wife sit down and we spoke and she was very supportive. She was very supportive because she has her Masters. And she was rooting for me to go back and we had to make some adjustments, some tough adjustments in order for me to make this move and hey, I end up successfully doing it. I’m excited and happy I was able to.


0:42:36.9 DP: Yeah. What kind of adjustments did you guys have to make?


0:42:41.2 JI: Financial adjustments, definitely. Financial adjustments when it comes to how much we spend per month. You’re not going out as much. Adjustments as far as spending time with your family and your kids, because you have to worry about work, school. You have to make smart decisions consistently because of the fact that you wanna maintain your GPA, with me I tried to maintain a GPA over 3.5. And I wanted to graduate with Honors, which I ended up doing. But when I… When it come to financially and spending time with your family, a lot of that, it was… I’m gonna be real, I’m gonna say it was a bumpy road.


0:43:22.2 DP: Yeah. It’s a lot of moving parts. It is a lot of moving parts.


0:43:26.4 JI: Yes.


0:43:26.4 DP: And that’s what we hear from folks all the time, especially when trying to work full-time, go to school, even part time or full time, while raising a family can be a lot of moving parts.


0:43:38.8 JI: Yeah.


0:43:40.5 DP: Did you end up applying to a lot of different schools or you just kinda lock in on one, did you go back to the one that you started with?


0:43:47.1 JI: Well, I had a… I did have a little rough time receiving some of my transcripts because it was like 20 years later, I had to go to the university and I had to get some grades corrected. Because like I said, I got in an accident. So that semester I was actually graded by a couple professors. So I had to find old documentation from 20 years ago. Luckily I’m a pack rat. So I kept all my documentation, had to go up to the university, which was Westchester University at the time. And they was amazed that I still had this paperwork. It was very fragile paper, but I had it. So they corrected my grade. I… They ended up giving my grade. I think it was over 3.5 once they calculated everything. And I was excited about that. So that was the rough part, trying to get the old paperwork and go back to the school and didn’t figure out, hey, am I gonna Westchester, I ended up meeting with an advisor, then I was looking at finances, where do I stand, am I going be able to afford it, am I gonna have to come out of pocket, if so how much, and that pretty much helped me make my decision on where I was gonna go and how this was gonna play out.


0:44:54.5 DP: Yeah. Thank… Someone out there who created that… Those old carbon copy triplicate forms, where there would always be that top sheet, the pink one, the green one, the yellow one or gold, paying off today for sure. Having to dig through those old records. Where did you end up re-enrolling at?


0:45:11.2 JI: Yes. Yes. Well, I ended up re-enrolling at Southern New Hampshire, because I had… Originally I had two semesters to finish, but it was so long. A lot of those classes that I took, they couldn’t accept those credits. So I ended up going to Southern New Hampshire and it was actually a great experience. I was a little hesitant at first because it was online. But I took the time, I learned to the process and, it was a great experience, but Southern New Hampshire is where I finished my degree.


0:45:42.5 DP: Did Southern New Hampshire end up honoring a lot of the past credits and courses that you took 20 years ago? Is that one of the reasons that drove you there?


0:45:51.9 JI: Well, it was the money too. The money played a big role. The money… ‘Cause I was using financial aid. And while I was in my undergrad, I was young. So I was taking out the max loans, which I shouldn’t have been, so I was coming to a limit to where I’m like, okay, I only have this amount of money left, so what am I going to do? I need to plan it out right. And also I’m at the… Get in my pocket a little bit to contribute as well. And like I said, when you’re dealing with a family’s… A family of five total, so you really gotta think that out when it comes to your finances. But Southern New Hampshire, they accepted a lot of my credits. I ended up doing a year and a half. So I went straight through the summer and completed my degree, but it was more or less the financial aspect of it.


0:46:34.9 DP: Wow. Yeah. Well, that’s a really aggressive timeline to complete the degree. So, you get into Southern New Hampshire, you start in your classes, you’re still working, you’re still taking care of the family and all that too. And being the family man that you are, I gotta imagine, that there were times, trying to adjust to online education as well and all that, that you might have needed a little bit of support.


0:47:00.4 JI: Yes, yeah, my advisor, I feel like I was one of her kids. I spoke with her so so much but that’s what you need. You need a person that’s gonna advise you. That’s gonna help. I had help within Southern New Hampshire and also, Graduate! Philly. They, helped me as well and then home with my wife. But you’re going to need that help. There’s no way if you have a family, you have a partner, you have other responsibility and bills. There’s no way you’re gonna do it by yourself smoothly. There’s gonna be some bumps in the road. It can be done. It can be done.


0:47:33.9 DP: Yeah, I think for a lot of people, it’s interesting ’cause it’s like, okay, you had an advisor through Southern New Hampshire and it sounds like they did a great job by you, right? But then you also had some… A different support from Graduate! Philadelphia. What was the difference between those supports? Why are both needed?


0:47:51.2 JI: Okay, well, Graduate! Philly helped me get back on track when we talk about the financial aid. Because I was irresponsible and defaulted on my loans. Graduate! Philly helped me get back on track. I had to do a payment process, went through the payment process, far as helping me select the schools, looking at all my options. And also staying up on me. I would receive those emails every couple weeks just to check up and see how everything was going. But far as with my advisor at Southern New Hampshire, of course, she made sure I took all the proper classes. Always on hand when I needed her. Made sure my financial aid was correct after Graduate! Philly helped me out, just kept me on track, kept me on track and told me exactly what I needed, when I needed it. And we had worked as a team in order to get me outta there and, it worked, it worked.


0:48:47.2 DP: So you graduate, congratulations. Fantastic. What’s happening now? What happens next? How long ago did you graduate?


0:48:55.3 JI: I graduate, I wanna say about couple years ago. Like a little about… A little over two years. Yeah. About a little over two years ago, I think. I was excited, but all honestly, I didn’t feel like I was done. I felt like my wife and my kids, they were more excited than I was, if that sounds right. But I felt like I wasn’t done, which led me to go after my master’s degree. Right now I’m at St. Joseph university studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and hopefully to get licensed and eventually go after my doctorate.


0:49:28.7 DP: Wow.


0:49:30.0 JI: So we’ll see how I feel once I get to that point.




0:49:34.0 DP: Yeah. I’ll say, keep talking about the family connection. I witnessed my wife go through a PhD program and I always thought, yeah, one day I’m gonna go after the PhD. And then I watched her go through it and I was like, yeah, maybe not. But I think you could do it, for sure. You seem like the person who has the right tenacity for it, for sure.


0:49:53.9 JI: No, that’s funny you say that because my wife, she said to me, she was thinking about going back to school and since she saw what I was dealing with going back to school, so luckily she already had some master’s, but she was thinking about going back until she witnessed all the things that I had to go through, stressing out when it comes time to do my midterms and do papers and such. But hopefully, maybe she’ll change her mind, but I don’t think so. I don’t think so.




0:50:21.4 DP: You know, well, our wives will get along being the smart of the two of us pair. But I guess, it’s interesting because there are a lot of folks that say, we look at the numbers at a national level and we see all these, adults, folks like you who had enrolled in college straight outta high school, something happens in their life and, they have to stop.


0:50:47.4 JI: Yes.


0:50:47.4 DP: And, they don’t come back. And yet, here we are hearing from you, received the right support, received the right supports to get back into the system from an independent organization that help you navigate your choices, helped you navigate the financial process and all that. And then, receive really good support while going through courses. And now what I hear you saying is, and you’ve kind of, the bug bit you, you wanna… You’re already working on your master’s, you’re excited to get into the PhD. What do you think that says about folks who might have been in your shoes that do wanna come back?


0:51:27.3 JI: It says you can do it. You can definitely do it. It’s just, you’re gonna experience the blood, sweat and tears. I used to box. And that was the thing that we used to say is the dedication, your blood, sweat, and tears. And it may come to that point because you have to sacrifice so much. But luckily when I enrolled and I was in school, I wasn’t the only one that was in my age group that decided to come back. There was a couple people that was older than me. And I found us gravitating to each other. So your support system, yes, it is at home, it is with your advisors. But also you can build a rapport with your classmates as well. That’s in your same position, but it says that you can do it. It’s just that you have to put in the work and you have to put, set yourself up to be able to put in the work. So that’s preparation. You have to prep before you come back after 20 years like I did, but it’s definitely possible. And I definitely think it will pay off. Definitely.


0:52:25.0 DP: Yeah, Jamar, we also have a lot of folks who listen to the show who are in higher education. They work for colleges and universities or they’re state policy makers, or other foundations. Looking at your experience of re-enrolling and that the kind of support and all those pieces to get you to completion, where do you think that things could have been a little bit easier had we redesigned our higher ed system a little bit better? If you could give some folks, Hey, this was a barrier and it made absolutely no sense. [laughter] It’s great that you got through it, but it shouldn’t have been that way. Does anything come to mind?


0:53:05.1 JI: The student loans. I mean, because if you owe money and you may have went through some financial issues, like I said, you’re young, you default on a loan. You’re still moving. You’re not really thinking about that until you become my age and you are like, oh man, I think when you come back as a learner, I think it should be more of an easier process without trying to reach out to the other organizations, to try to help you and advocate for you, you should be able to make that call, make that call, advocate for yourself and get that done. But I think getting the money, the money to me is, was one of the hardest things. And I think that if the federal elected officials could make some adjustments on a federal level. I think that’d be great. I think we can get a lot of people back in school. Currently I have a friend who went to Villanova, his father died in his senior year. He has nine credits to finish and he never went back and it’s a financial thing. So if they’re able to make some forgiveness and some adjustments, I think that would be key.


0:54:05.1 DP: So it’s a matter of helping folks kind of in some cases pay back down balances or extend the financial aid clock ’cause that’s one of the things I heard you say earlier, “Hey, I kinda made my college choice a little bit as you came back on to the place that I could afford with the remaining financial aid that I had.” So what you’re saying is that, Hey for adults that wanna come back, the financial aid process needs to be clearer. And there needs to be a way that we can handle financial issues from the past. Is that what I hear you saying?


0:54:36.4 JI: Yes, definitely. Definitely because like I said, usually like I was, I just turned 17 when I went to college. So it’s just like, you don’t really understand a lot of what’s going on. When it comes to the finances, all, you know, you wanna go to school, and you sign a paperwork, you sign a paperwork, and you’re trying to get in and that’s if you don’t have a parent that’s fortunate enough to pay for your school. Which I didn’t, like I said, I was the first one to graduate high school. So I didn’t have that support even though my family was proud of me. But I think going back, the financial piece is a major thing. It’s like, I think even if you can make some adjustments, when you look at the person, you look at the household, you look at the expenses, this and that if the school or the federal government can make some adjustments to accommodate those individuals, I think we’ll have more people graduating that could contribute to this economy on a bigger level.


0:55:28.5 DP: Yeah, absolutely. So, after you finish your master’s degree, what’s next?


0:55:36.4 JI: Well, my doctorate, like I said, my doctorate, I’m definitely gonna go for that, but I have a strong background in communication and also community engagement. That was also my thing. Mayor Nutter, when he was here, voted me the co-chair for the mayor’s commission on African American men they tried to come up with solutions, to combat gun violence and also education and so on and deal with those different issues. So that’s my passion is people, people in general. So I see me definitely working in that field and also using my counseling degree to work in these communities that need it.


0:56:13.9 DP: Well, Jamar, I so appreciate the time that you spent with us, your willingness to kind of share your insights and your journey of well of your life quite honestly. And I, for one, I’m very excited to continue following your work and wish you all the best in finishing your master’s and all the best in going after a PhD ’cause that’s that’s no joke but you seem like you’re the kinda guy who has it.


0:56:38.6 JI: I know, I know, don’t scare me. [laughter] Don’t scare me, man.


0:56:44.4 DP: You got it.


0:56:44.5 JI: Don’t scare me.


0:56:44.4 DP: You got it for sure.


0:56:44.9 JI: Yeah. No, I’m looking forward, I’m looking forward.


0:56:47.5 DP: Well, Hey, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate your time.


0:56:51.6 JI: No, thank you. I appreciate this. And I enjoyed this conversation.


0:57:00.1 DP: Welcome back. You know, what we learned from Juquilla and Jamar is that with the right supports at the right time, more and more adults can re-enter higher education and complete their degree. This is not an issue of motivation or perseverance or grit. It is an issue of support and helping an adult navigate an education system that is set up for traditionally aid students. In part two of our show, we’re gonna talk with some nonprofits and higher education institutions, working hard to support returning adults, exploring what we can learn and apply from their cutting edge work.


0:57:32.0 DP: Be sure to keep watching part two to hear the full story. But for now it’s time for us to go. Our show is produced by Jacob Mann, John Strauss and me, Dakota Pawlicki with support from Matthew Jenkins, Amy Bartner and the team at Site Strategics. Well Done Marketing supports the promotion of our show and Deborah Humphreys and Kevin Corcoran provide leadership for Lumina Strategic Engagement Efforts. Please be sure to subscribe and rate our shows wherever you happen to be getting to your podcast or watching us on YouTube. If you do have a comment or an idea for a future show, reach us at luminafoundation.org, or reach me on Twitter @DakotaPawlicki. Thank you so much. Join us for part two and we’ll be sure to see you next month.