These Students Have Big Dreams. Their Colleges Had a Plan to Remove Hurdles. - Education news

These Students Have Big Dreams. Their Colleges Had a Plan to Remove Hurdles.

There was a shift in Cheryl Gonzales’ life—a period of transition that seemed full of possibilities—around the time of a high school graduation. Not hers, her youngest daughter.

The 43-year-old mom of four (and grandmother of two) turned her thoughts back to an associates degree that had sat unfinished since she left St. Philip’s College, in San Antonio’s east side, rather suddenly 20 years before.

Maybe it was time to go back and finish.

Things were beginning to calm in Cheryl’s life. She had been attending Narcotics Anonymous and was recovering from substance abuse that started in her early 30s. Through that process, Cheryl had begun to tease out the reasons underlying her addiction. She followed the thread of trauma that wound though her past—the homelessness, the abuse—back to its root at a sexual assault she experienced at 13.

No one had been there to help Cheryl, but maybe she could be there for others.

“I wanted to use that pain and turn it into something good,” Cheryl told EdSurge over the summer, speaking from her San Antonio home that’s a short drive to the campus. “I said, ‘I wanna help others who are going through those issues and let them know that they’re not alone.’ What better way to use my pain and turn it into something better than by giving back to society?”

There’ll probably never be a silver bullet to getting students who stopped out of college to return to the classroom and walk across the graduation stage. That’s because students aren’t data points—they’re individuals—and their lives are more winding and complex than anything that can fit neatly into a spreadsheet.
But a college can work to clear some of the barriers in students’ paths.

In 2019, Cheryl Gonzales returned to St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, the same campus where she first started her degree before pregnancy complications forced her to leave. Photos by Ed Ornelas for EdSurge.

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