Non-traditional students (those who are a few years removed from high school) sometimes face a set of unique challenges when they embark on the journey to obtain a college degree. Amanda Collins, a graduate of both Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) and Missouri State University-Springfield, knows those challenges well. In this column and subsequent columns in the coming months, she will share her story and provide insights into the higher education processes for others like her who are considering a return to the classroom. Collins works part time on several projects in the MSU-WP university communications office.
My non-traditional path to success
According to Missouri Community Action Network (Missouri CAN), 21% of Missouri’s population living in poverty reside in Howell County. My family is counted among them.
In 2015, my husband and I discussed our financial situation when we learned that a friend of mine suddenly found herself as the sole income earner for herself and her children. We agreed that if a tragedy struck where he could not provide for our family, we would be in a dire situation. Like many families struggling to make ends meet, my husband was the primary income earner.
At the time, I worked as a licensed massage therapist. The work was good, but I needed a steady income – something that I could fall back on and still ensure our children are cared for.
The United States Census Bureau states that the 2021 poverty threshold for a family of four, two of which are related children under 18 years old, is $27,479.
When we discovered our little four-person family was considered “living in poverty,” we were shocked. You see, our only debt was the mortgage on our modest three-bedroom home. We owned two vehicles, we had plenty of food, running water and clean clothing. By no means were we living “high on the hog,” but we were (and still are) living comfortably.
However, like many families, we were one catastrophe away from losing our home or living in crippling debt. We were playing a risky game, and it was only a matter of time before our luck ran out.
Missouri CAN lists five key components keeping poverty at bay:
- economic and family security
- food and nutrition
According to CAN, if one of these components struggles, the other four areas suffer as well.
A new direction
Every day, I drove past the local PreK-12 school buildings, and the signs advertising available substitute teaching positions caught my attention. Debbie, one of our relatives, recently worked as a substitute teacher while she waited for her employer to secure a project with a new client. She mentioned how she enjoyed working with the students, the flexibility of her work schedule, and the income was significantly better than what I earned at the time.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), no prior experience is necessary to become a Content Substitute; however, applicants need to have completed at least 60 semester hours of college credit from an accredited college. For more details on substitute teaching requirements, visit DESE’s help guide.
Becoming a substitute teacher was a promising position, especially in our community. The prospect of working with educators was also appealing because we recently received autism diagnoses for both our sons. I liked the idea of learning new teaching methods and working closely with the professionals who were instrumental in our children’s education. And with only 60 hours to complete, it was an attainable goal.
A tentative plan
After my husband and I discussed our options, we agreed enrolling at Missouri State University-West Plains would be the best option for us, especially if I could secure financial aid. I couldn’t find out how much financial aid would cover until I applied for admission, however.
We were hopeful this was the right track. If financial aid didn’t cover most of my course fees, we knew I could withdraw my application before classes began, but I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. I looked forward to this new chapter in my life!
Read Amanda’s second installment about the admission and financial aid process.
To learn more about the MSU-WP admissions process, visit WP.MissouriState.edu/Admissions.
Visit our Programs of Study web page at WP.MissouriState.edu/Academics/Programs to discover what’s available at MSU-WP.