by Nicole Roe

For 15 years, Jody Watts raised her children alongside her husband while managing the books for their construction company. Now, as a single mother of three, she is working full time in hospitality to support her family. After attempting school years prior, only to be told to put her dream of becoming a nurse on hold to take care of her children, she is currently enrolled at Hodges University.

Watts is pursuing an associate degree with plans to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree at Hodges.

“In the beginning I thought that if I got my foot in the door at the Ritz, I could move my way up, but not having a college education puts a damper on being able to advance. I know I have so much more to offer,” she said.

The decision to go back to school is not always easy. Nontraditional students must consider how school will impact their work schedule and time spent with family. These students also weigh the investment needed to go to college versus the rewards of earning a degree.

Currently, 78 percent of Hodges’ students are receiving some level of financial assistance, which includes federal, state or institutional aid. Of the students who are considered nontraditional (25 years or older), 81 percent are receiving financial assistance.

Hodges also offers students the opportunity to apply for federal and state grants such as the Pell Grant and Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) Grant. Merit- and Need-Based scholarships are also available to students who meet certain criteria.Although student loan debt continues to be one of the biggest deterrents of going back to school, the personal investment and opportunity to improve one’s quality of life often give many adults the justification needed to enroll.

Not only is earning a college degree a personal investment in oneself, but it enables individuals like Watts to pursue a desired career, earn more money, and as studies show, live a happier life.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in 2017 for individuals 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree was 2.5 percent compared to those with only a high school diploma at 4.6 percent.

The median weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree was $1,173 versus $712 with a high school diploma.

For Watts, devoting a few years to school to ultimately have a schedule that is conducive to her needs and a substantial income makes the cost of going to school worth the investment. Her co-workers call her “mom” because of her nurturing and caring demeanor. She is always looking to take care of others in need and looks forward to becoming a nurse.

Watts knew the school work wasn’t going to be the only difficulty she faced. Finding the money to go to school presented its challenges, especially when trying to take care of three children on her own.

Hodges’ Director of Admissions, Erlis Abazi, helped Watts discover how she could fund her college education.

“If it wasn’t for him [Erlis], I probably wouldn’t have enrolled back in school,” she said. “He sold Hodges to me.”

After completing her FAFSA, Watts received federal student aid in addition to four individual grants. Although student loan payments will be part of her future, her desire to make something of herself and become a nurse far outweigh the financial impact. With her degree, she knows she will have a higher earning power and an in-demand career.

She views her decision to return to school as an opportunity to not only better herself but to also set a good example for her children.

“I want to show my kids that you can do anything, at anytime. I want them to be proud of me, and see the value of an education,” she said.

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