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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Mom And Grown Kids Chose College Path They Could Afford. Now, They'll Graduate Together

Courtney Collins
Nathan Wade, Carolyn Wade and Christina Cannon will all graduate from Tarrant County College on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Tuition will increase at all eight University of Texas system schools this fall, and price hikes might be driving down enrollment. According to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half of U.S. public colleges didn't meet their enrollment goals this year.

One Arlington family decided to study at the community college level instead — and this weekend, they'll finish, together.

From her home to the job market

Carolyn Wade is a mother of four and does not regret a single moment of life as a stay-at-home parent. She just always thought when the kids were grown, finding work would be easy.

"I tried office, I tried temporary, I tried retail, grocery stores. I mean, I applied for just about everything," she said.

And she kept applying, for years. She had no work experience, no certifications or degrees and employers just weren't interested.

"I found myself in a situation where finding a job was literally not going to happen," Carolyn Wade said. "And I knew it was time to make a plan, and get some education."

So she enrolled at Tarrant County College. It took her more than five years to get her associate's degree, but she'll walk the stage this weekend, at the age of 59. And she won't be doing it alone. Her son, Nathan Wade, and daughter, Christina Cannon, are graduating with her. 

"Graduation is going to be just a lot of joy and probably tears," said Cannon. "Because we have been pushing each other and giving each other little nudges that we needed to to get each other to this point."

A family effort

Mother and daughter live together in Arlington. They motivated each other to stay on top of reading and homework and took many of the same classes. Christina Cannon had different reasons for enrolling at Tarrant County College. She had always been a working mom, taking basic accounting jobs. Without a degree, she says, the pay for that kind of work is around $10 an hour.

"Payday came and, you know, you're so excited to get paid, but then you pay all the bills and you might have $100, if that, left over. Your day went from exciting to depressing very fast," Cannon said.

"Graduation is going to be just a lot of joy and probably tears."

So she enrolled in hopes of getting an associate's degree, then transferring to a four-year college for her bachelor's, then master's. She starts at the University of Texas at Arlington this summer.

Her brother, Nathan Wade, is getting an associate of arts right now. Last year he graduated with an associate of science. He'll get that second degree alongside his mom and sister. He's already started an architecture program at UT Arlington and says going to community college first gave him a lot of flexibility.

"It worked for me because I took my time. Nothing was rushed for me. I made all my decisions in my own time. And that's I think the beauty of what community college is," he said.

A different path to their diplomas

And because it was affordable, there wasn't pressure to rush, or take on debt.

"I was able to qualify for a lot of grants and opportunities, but even when a situation had come where I needed to be out of pocket, I knew I didn't have to take out a small personal loan just to get supplies or pay tuition," said Wade.

They all made it through Tarrant County College without debt and without regrets. Christina Cannon says she got a taste of what graduation might be like when all three of them were inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

"Nathan went first, and after he went, he stood on the side of the stage, and when Mom went, he yelled, 'That's my mom!' And then whenever I went, he yelled, 'And that's my sister!'"

Who knows if there will be a similar on-stage celebration during commencement? If so, chances are, the crowd won't mind. 

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.