They started differently—various years, at varying ages and for varied durations. But at the end, co-workers Shannon Hall, Rosemary Wilson and Linsey Zimmerman celebrated their latest academic achievements on the same day.
Support and motivation from family and friends notwithstanding, the lifelong-learning culture at Tarrant County College enabled these three—who work in the office of TCC District Admissions—to earn their degrees. Single moms Hall and Wilson, both enrollment associates, earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Science and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Administration, respectively. Enrollment specialist Linsey Zimmerman earned a Master of Science in Management and Leadership, three years after earning her Bachelor of Science degree. All graduated from Tarleton State University in Stephenville on May 10.
Hall started her journey 21 years ago and has been driven by her desire to inspire her daughters. It took Wilson about a decade to reach her goal. She initially chose marriage and children over the academic scholarships available as a high school graduate. Encouragement from her mentor, coupled with her desire to advance her career, was the impetus for Zimmerman to return to school to seek multiple degrees.
“Enrollment Services staff members interact with our students every day. Having their own experiences as students in higher education helps employees relate to the students we count on them to serve,” said Rebecca Griffith, district director of Admissions and Records who manages the recent graduates. ”Encouraging these employees to take classes also helps them understand complex situations and develops critical thinking skills. Our work is very demanding and to reach these accomplishments in addition to working full time takes dedication.”
Zimmerman’s efforts to earn her graduate degree were bolstered by TCC’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
“TCC implemented a tuition assistance program that really helped me finish my degree sooner and not have to worry about paying tuition,” Zimmerman said, adding that she used TAP to pay for three of the five semesters for which she was eligible. “I am so grateful I did not have to rely on student loans to fund my degree.”
Supporting the College’s commitment to lifelong learning, TCC’s TAP began accepting applications on July 1, 2017. The program is available for all benefit-eligible, full-time faculty and staff who have been employed full time for a minimum of one year. Courses that qualify for reimbursement must be taken for academic credit and offered by a regionally accredited college or university. The courses must appear on a degree plan and must result in an earned grade of “C” or higher or the “CR” or “Pass” designation for capstone or dissertation research hours.
“Our goal in providing learning opportunities is to support talented people to succeed at meaningful work,” said TCC Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Elva LeBlanc. “Lifelong learning contributes to our efforts to transform the College into one that is student-ready. We want faculty and staff to succeed at making a difference in the same way that helping students meet their educational goals enables them to make a difference in their lives.”
Learning should never end for TCC students or employees, according to Caitlin Graves, coordinator for the Center for Teaching and Learning. “TAP allows our workforce to become stronger and better able to serve students, the institution and the community. Having a better-educated workforce, one with better knowledge and skills, benefits TCC as a whole. Additionally, (TAP puts TCC) on trend with institutions that offer similar programs and puts us ahead of those that do not provide this benefit.”
Data show that tuition assistance programs are gaining ground nationwide. “Half of U.S. employers provide education assistance,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management 2018 Employee Benefits Survey, quoted by writer Rebecca Koenig in her article, “Companies Lure Workers With (Nearly) Free College Tuition” in U.S. News and World Report.
In the last two academic years, nearly 300 reimbursements have been made to 202 employees, 92 of which were reimbursed both years. In Fall 2019, family members of full-time TCC employees will receive an educational benefit making them eligible for tuition reimbursement for courses taken at TCC.
The Tarleton graduates credited TCC’s lifelong-learning culture as a major contributor in their ability to pursue their degrees and were appreciative of their supportive supervisors.
“This culture has taught me that I am a lifelong learner and I never want to stop learning,” Hall said. “Without the support I received from all of my supervisors, I would not have been able to finish my degree. I anticipate it will make a big difference in my career. I am always on the lookout for a new position at TCC where I can be of greater help to our students.”
Zimmerman attributes TCC’s culture for helping her grow and develop.
“I no longer want to settle for who I am at this moment because I know I can do more by obtaining new skills and learning new things,” she said. “Though I took online courses and had the ability to work on homework and my courses anywhere, having a consistent work schedule enabled me to plan activities and find a work/school/life balance.”
Benefits are not limited to these graduates. “Earning a degree has given me inner confidence and it has inspired my children to work harder at achieving their goals and believe that they can do anything through hard work and belief in themselves,” Wilson said.
For those contemplating pursing further education, Hall encourages them to do it. Get started now! Don’t put it off until everything is perfectly situated, because it never will be the right time,” she said. Once you get started, keep pushing forward until your goals are reached. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.”
Wilson encouraged degree seekers to persevere “even when it becomes challenging,” suggesting steps to ensure success. “Surround yourself with like-minded, positive-thinking individuals who have similar goals or who have already accomplished what you are pursuing,” she said. “Get help when or if you need it. Ask advice of those who have already received the degree you are seeking.”
Zimmerman agrees. “Go for it! You can do it! You will have to make sacrifices, but that degree is worth it,” she said. “It will open doors for you that a night out with friends or family cannot.”
However, she cautioned, “Remember to find a balance between work, life and school. While school took precedence over my social life, I still made sure to find time to go to engagements that were important to me. Sometimes, you just need a break from studying.”