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For me, everything changed with the birth of my daughter in 2015.
Up until that time, I was relatively content with my professional life. Having an associate degree and an L.P.N. certificate allowed me to work in the healthcare field — first in a hospital, and then a medical office — and make enough to live on. My jobs were fine, if somewhat unfulfilling, but becoming a mom gave me an entirely different perspective.
I could no longer think only about myself. I wanted — no, I needed — to give the best possible life to my child. She was my number one priority, and I knew I was not going to be able to give my baby daughter the life she deserved if I didn’t earn a bachelor’s degree. Looking for work-at-home opportunities, I found that I was hitting a glass ceiling.
So I made the commitment then and there to pursue my bachelor’s degree.
My higher-education journey was somewhat circuitous. It began in 2007. Fresh out of high school, I attended Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, for my freshman year before transferring to nearby Le Moyne College in 2008. I was there for a year before it dawned on me that I really had no idea what I wanted to major in at a four-year college. Healthcare was my general interest, so I returned to Onondaga to get my associate degree in human services in 2010, followed by my L.P.N. in 2012.
I was at a crossroads — I was a single mother who knew she needed to get her bachelor’s degree, but I was uncertain how to go about it without unduly burdening others. The first step in being able to get my four-year degree was when I secured a job with Humana, the health insurance company, in 2016, which allowed me to work from home as a nurse care coordinator. For me, this was the solution to my child care issues.
In 2018, I decided to go back to Le Moyne, which had recently launched a bachelor of science in professional studies specifically for those who have a number of undergraduate credits but need help in finishing their degrees. I couldn’t commit to coming to campus during the day due to work and child care, so advisers helped me create a schedule that was based on my lifestyle, not the other way around. I was able to take a few classes online and the rest in person in the evenings after work, so I could combine study and child care.
This May, I will complete my final course and graduate from Le Moyne with a bachelor’s degree, with a concentration in health.
As a 31-year-old student, I now appreciate the elements of a Jesuit education that I had no clue about as a 17-year-old. For one, the holistic approach to being a student I experienced over the past two years certainly resonates with me, given my life experiences and circumstances, as it addresses the work/home life/school balance. Taking core courses — such as philosophy, religion and other humanities courses — has given me a much richer appreciation for other cultures, which will certainly help me in my career.
It hasn’t been easy to combine work, study and child care, and I have to confess that on certain days it felt like I was fitting 30 hours of work into a 24-hour day. But I was motivated and had a plan that I was committed to, and an employer and college that worked with me to achieve it and combine work, study and child care.
For me, flexible hours from my workplace and school have provided my solution for child care, but I urge policymakers to examine efforts that my state, New York, has made in funding child care centers.
I’m not ready to stop quite yet. Later this year, I will begin an online Master of Public Health degree at Baylor University that I will finish in July 2022, and my ultimate career goal is to become a market or regional director of population health management at Humana or within an entity such as the World Health Organization.
Like finishing my bachelor’s, getting my master’s will be difficult but I know it’ll be worth it.
This story about returning to college was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.
Chelsea Collins is a student at Le Moyne College.