Shirley is one of the millions of non-traditional college students in the United States. She is a mother working toward an associate’s degree who wants to advance her career and further her education while working a job and caring for her family.
Shirley opted to leave a community-college degree program to pursue a faster, lower-cost credential through PelotonU. Below, Shirley shares her story thus far.
I worked for IBM for around eight years here in Austin. When the company wanted me to move from Texas to Minnesota, I decided to step away from that job in order to get married and start a family.
When the time came for me to go back to work, I went into transportation for the City of Austin and then worked for the school district. That part of my career spanned 15 years.
During that time, the thought of going back to school was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to do something more with my life. Sometimes when you start a family, school is put on the back burner. When my youngest child approached high-school graduation, I knew the time was now or never.
I began at a local community college to get my knowledge base up-to-speed. That’s when a friend told me about PelotonU — she said I could move toward a credential at my own pace, and that I could save a lot of money.
My initial reaction was, “Really? I don’t believe this.” But I checked it out for myself, and it was all true. So I made the jump and officially enrolled in the summer of 2019, pursuing an associate’s degree in general studies with a concentration in business through PelotonU’s partner school, Southern New Hampshire University.
When I started my degree program, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with it. And the team at PelotonU actually recommended that — it’s good to begin by exploring and dreaming about your future. I only knew one thing for certain: I wanted a degree that would allow me to jump into a different field than transportation. I went back to work there to help feed my family, but now I wanted something more.
The biggest positive for me with PelotonU has been time: I know that it won’t take me 10 years to earn a two-year associate’s degree. Another difference maker is the staff and the environment. I enter this learning environment and get everything I need from a computer to a cup of coffee.
And the staff are so friendly and willing to help you. They helped me realize that I’m not in this alone. They’re available for whatever question I have, and show me that there are no silly questions. It’s a close-knit group. It’s online, but at the same time it’s more hands-on, more personal, and I feel like people genuinely care about me.
I can’t bring up the staff without also talking about the coaches. We’re required to meet with our coach once a week for 30 minutes to update them on progress. And let me tell you, during the COVID-19 pandemic these coaches ended up being more like counselors. These individuals are so much more than an education coach — they’re here for my emotional well–being. It’s hard to imagine doing this without having that coach relationship. The pandemic made me so appreciative of our community.
What’s in store for my future? We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m just enjoying the process of learning again and continuing to be involved in my kids’ lives. My next chapter isn’t written in stone. All I know for sure is this: Education should be a lifelong experience. You should never stop learning. PelotonU is built around that.
The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.