A Triumphant Return

After taking a leave of absence, students returning to the CSU find a warm welcome.

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Now more than ever, a college degree is integral to helping people launch fulfilling careers and improve their lives. A recent report from The Campaign for College Opportunity noted that Californians with a bachelor’s degree earn about $40,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. But outside circumstances sometimes force students to put their college dreams on hold. Returning to school is never easy, but fortunately CSU campuses are always eager to welcome students back and help them on the road to success.

Meet some CSU students who made the decision to return to school and persevere in earning their degree.

Juthaporn chaloeicheep

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Juthaporn chaloeicheep

Campus: San Francisco State
Major/Program: B.A. in Liberal Studies ’20

What caused you to leave school?
I started at San Francisco State in 1996. Sophomore year, I got pregnant. I moved home from the dorms and got my A.A. at Diablo Valley College. From there, I met the wrong crowd and went off the deep end—from drug addiction to homelessness. I was homeless for almost 20 years and in and out of jail.

How did you get your life back on track?
I was placed in permanent housing and had a baby. This was the first time I actually changed my life, when I decided to have the baby and bring him home, because the other babies who were born on the streets, I had to give them up. I quit everything cold turkey, which was very hard. I've been clean for five years.

Why did you decide to return?
After my baby, Douglas, went to preschool, I figured, 'Well, what am I going to do now? Just sit here and wait to pick him up?' Or I could get up and do something. I got training in computers at Goodwill and St. Anthony's, because I was 20 years behind. In 2019, I said, 'OK, I'm ready to go back to college, to San Francisco State.' I took 16 units both semesters and got a 4.0. I was on a mission—to go back and give it my all on my second go-round. I don't want my life story over the past 20 years to be the reason why I couldn't help my son with his homework and couldn't be there as a soccer mom.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
Project Rebound assisted me with both semesters to cover my additional tuition costs. I did the tutoring program and got the food vouchers, and they paid for my books. Every service that Project Rebound had to offer, I was in. I wanted to make my mark at the university. I wanted to let them know that, 'Here's me coming back 20 years later. Here's what I need, and if you help me, I'm going to do the best I can.' And that's what I did.

What are your plans for the future?
I'm going write my book for the babies I left behind, Damon, Sam Michael, Albert, Thomas and James. Reuniting with my children is my biggest motivation. I want them to forgive me and love me. Right now, I'm at City College of San Francisco, pursuing my addiction recovery certificate program. I'm going to be getting my substance use disorder license. Then I'm going back to San Francisco State for grad school to become a social worker. If you're going to get a second chance in life, go for it.


Veunta Dailey

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Veunta Dailey

Campus: Sacramento State
Major/Program: B.S. in Career & Technical Studies ’17, M.A. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies ’20, Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, currently enrolled

What caused you to leave school?
The first time I left school was two years into community college after high school. I was making more money than my peers and felt I should dedicate more time to work. Little did I know that I was still making peanuts compared to what I could with a degree. When I started a new job at a private college that offered a waiver to attend their courses, I returned to school. Unfortunately, if there was a problem in my work department the manager would send one of my co-workers to pull me out of class. This caused me to miss a lot of school. Then one day, all employees were told the tuition waiver would no longer be available. When I did not have a waiver to attend my employer's school or the time or flexibility to attend another college, I didn't take classes for almost two years. The company finally closed in April 2015, and I decided I would finish school no matter what it took.

Why did you decide to return?
I wanted to enhance my skills and knowledge to increase my marketability in the education profession. I knew I wanted to work with students but felt I would not be able to get my foot in the 'right' doors unless I had a degree. I started the B.S. in Career & Technical Studies program at Sacramento State in August 2015 and graduated in fall 2017. I never looked back from there and continued with my education.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
The most important assistance I received was a plan to complete my degree. This was different than your typical academic counseling. I was provided with a sequence of courses I would take for the duration of the program. Since I was signing up for a degree completion program with the College of Continuing Education (CCE), I had priority in the classes included in my program, and it was guaranteed that I would not be on any waitlist. I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and as long as I followed the sequence, I was going to complete my B.S. within the two years defined.

How did your degree increase your social mobility?
Completing my B.S. has increased my social mobility in terms of my visibility and voice in the community, my strive to continue my education and my ability to make strong connections as a leader. During the eight years before I started attending Sac State, my mentality was that an A.A. would be good for me, as a B.A./B.S. would be possible but unlikely. This did not come from my family, but the people I worked with as managers and directors were the only ones who had B.A./B.S. degrees. However, this was very discouraging for someone who did not realize that a B.A./B.S. was all it took to be a manager or director. It was not until I attended Sac State that I was around people who wanted more and were doing more. This was a new world and, in a sense, social mobility was already increasing just within my mindset. That is what has kept me going. I am currently in the Ed.D. Program, and I never thought I would be here! My social mobility is defined by so much more than just monetary means; it has projected my family, my activity at Sac State/community and my future in the right direction. I always keep my mind open about opportunities, so there are times when I am not sure exactly what the future has in store for me, but I am positive it has many new, exciting and insightful opportunities.


Cindy Farkas

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Cindy Farkas

Campus: CSUN
Major/Program: B.A. in Communications Studies ’12

What caused you to leave school?
I left CSUN in 1996 because I got married and moved out of state. I tried continuing my degree in Colorado once I gained residency. It was a challenge while working full-time. I stopped again once I became pregnant with my first son.

How long were you out of school?
I was out of school for two years, from 1996-1998, then another 10 years, from 2000-2010, before I finally got back to CSUN to finish my degree.

Why did you decide to return?
My original intention in returning back to school was to obtain a B.S. in kinesiology, but when I realized I was about 25 units shy of my B.A. in communication studies, I decided to finish that degree.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
No formal help, but tremendous support from fantastic professors who seemed to enjoy having older students in class.

How has your degree helped you in your current position?
I am a fitness instructor and yoga teacher, so having a background in communications is very beneficial. Communication is the very heart of what I do every day. Public speaking is my daily activity. And within the COVID-19 world, learning to translate that to a virtual world has been fairly seamless!


Fern (Fernanda) Hernandez Garcia

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Fern (Fernanda) Hernandez Garcia

Campus: CSU San Marcos
Major/Program: Human Development, Senior

What caused you to leave school?
I left CSUSM to take care of my personal well-being. I struggled with the COVID stay-at-home order because 'home' was not a healthy or supportive setting for my genderqueer identity and expression. The last five years as an undergrad at CSUSM, I enrolled in full-time classes and held two, sometimes three, part-time jobs each semester as a way of coping and to spend the least amount of time at 'home.' Couch surfing for a month during the COVID emergency became my fuse; I prioritized my own well-being, despite the cost of delaying my graduation.

How long were you out of school?
I did not enroll for fall 2020, so I could move out and find temporary full-time employment.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
The assistance I received to return to CSUSM in spring 2021 began first with the help to leave CSUSM for the remainder of 2020. Jennie Ruiz from the Dean of Students Office (DOS) was the first person I contacted about needing help; she helped immensely by making the process of receiving help feel less shameful and more deserved. Bonnie Campbell at DOS helped me access resources and support from the Cougar Care Network, and in doing so, I finished off the remainder of spring 2020 fairly well academically and emotionally. Katie Ramos is a CSUSM social worker who helped me connect to the Student Health and Counseling services during summer 2020, as well as outside resources for my time away from CSUSM. The DOS team and TRiO student support services welcomed me back and have been holding me accountable to meet deadlines.

How do you envision your degree increasing your social mobility or helping you in the future?
My hope is that with a B.A. in human development, with a concentration in health services, I will be eligible to begin a career in the Human and Health Service Agency. I expect I will need to continue my education, whether it be enhancing my skills through a certification program or graduate school, in order to achieve social mobility.

I would like my experience to help shed light on how dependent social mobility is on basic wealth. Lack of wealth in the form of safe and stable housing makes it really difficult to complete a degree in higher education; being a student at CSUSM and having access to its resources helped me avoid destitution.


Stephany Barrera

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Stephany Barrera

Campus: CSU Monterey Bay
Major/Program: Cinematic Arts and Technology, Senior

What caused you to leave school?
When I graduated high school, I enrolled in a surgical technology program. I was eager to learn about anatomy and graduate in as little as two years with a great career. Not many people can say they have seen the inside of a human body or they have saved a life. I was gaining experience in many different surgical procedures, from emergency C-section to rhinoplasty. As much as I enjoyed my time as a surgical tech student, I didn't feel happier than when it was time to use bone cement, which is used for knee and hip replacements. The cement heats up and hardens quickly. The surgical team knew I was very into art, and they would allow me to sculpt something out of the extra cement from the procedure. The sculptures were displayed in our lounge room, and I was very proud of them. I came to an epiphany that I was passionate about art, and I was finding interesting ways to include it in my life. I knew then that I had to pursue my love for art, even if it meant I would have to start all over again.

I left school, the surgical tech program, after my husband joined the military; I was pregnant when he deployed to Afghanistan. Once we were settled back in our hometown, in our 'civilian' life, I enrolled at my community college.

How long were you out of school?
I was out of school for seven years!

Why did you decide to return?
I realized it was not too late to get my education and become a professional in society.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
I applied to FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] when I registered for my community college, where I received a Pell Grant and earned my associate of arts degree in studio arts. I applied myself and became a UROC/Dewar Scholar and researcher at CSUMB. Now I can apply to scholarships and feel like I have a shot at being a recipient.

How do you envision your degree increasing your social mobility or helping you in the future?
I want to journey into graduate school. My goals are to become an executive in the film industry, and I thrive in knowing I can pave a path for women like me, who I can advise or inspire.


Solange Del Castillo

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Solange Del Castillo

Campus: Stanislaus State
Major/Program: Communications Studies, Junior

What caused you to leave school?
Simply put, life happened. Toward the end of high school, I hung around the wrong crowd. I started at my local community college and saw it as an extension of high school. I did not do very well and, honestly, all the school could do was put me on academic probation and send me to a Saturday class to refocus me. Needless to say, it didn't work! I was just another number on the academic probation list. I felt like my counselor brushed me off, and I didn't know I could ask for someone else or other help, so I gave up. I thought I was grown and could be on my own. I started working and made a few more attempts to go back to school, but I felt like I was so behind that it was never-ending, so I gave up again. I got married very young and school was pushed even further on the back burner. I also got a good-paying job and thought that would be all I needed. I got stuck in a little box of comfort.

How long were you out of school?
My last school year at my community college was 1996. I attended a few years in 2000. I came back full-time in 2020 to my same community college. I was out of school for about 20 years.

Why did you decide to return?
I was at my job for more than 20 years, but because of reorganization in the business, my position was allocated overseas. I was laid off with no degree to stand on. I found myself in a rough patch: no salary, single mother and caregiver to my mom. At that moment in time, I was in the worst place. But I know it was happening for a reason; this was my wake-up call. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was my time to start over. There were no excuses this time—no way I could turn back. And I will not stop until I am done.

What kind of assistance did you receive upon your return to the CSU?
My experience thus far has been so amazing since I started in the CSU system. Starting from the WOW [Warriors on the Way] advisor at my community college all the way to my advisors. They have, hands-down, been the best experience during such an intimidating time. Special thanks to the folks who had a hand in getting me to this point:

  • Lidia Sanchez Flores/WOW advisor: For always answering my questions, no matter how silly they were.
  • Ashley Mansfield/student success coordinator: For meeting with me to give me insight on how to select my classes and be prepared for my meeting with my advisor at new student orientation.
  • Zona Zaragoza/supergal administrator on the Stockton Campus: For always knowing who to call.
  • Yolanda Alcaraz/financial aid: For being so kind during my application of exception for financial aid.
  • Christopher Claus, Ph.D./Communication Department: For helping me pick out the most amazing classes for this semester.
  • Keith Nainby, Ph.D./Communication Department: For always having kind words of encouragement and a desire for my success. This process is not easy, and you always need that person to be your cheerleader—even over email.

How do you envision your degree increasing your social mobility or helping you in the future?
When I started this journey, I thought my degree would just get me a better-paying job somewhere. But in reality, this degree will do so much more. It will give me back control of my life—control to mold my own future. This process has opened my eyes to so many different options and given me so much insight into what I want to do in my life. It reminded me that I have a lot to offer and many more talents I can sharpen to be the best I can be in so many different fields. It has also shown me that I want to help other young people to see their paths and discover there is so much out there for them. I am very excited for my future and can't wait to help others.

Learn more about the CSU’s ​degree completion programs and resources available to returning students.