Dawn Baswell, at left, returned to East Mississippi Community College to complete her education thanks to the Complete to Compete (C2C) program. EMCC’s C2C Coordinator Michele Arney, at right, has been a driving force in getting EMCC’s C2C program implemented.

April 26, 2018

Dawn Baswell is continuing her education at East Mississippi Community College after a seven-year hiatus thanks to a statewide initiative launched last year to help Mississippians complete the courses they need to earn a degree.

Baswell enrolled at EMCC through the Complete 2 Compete, or C2C, program, which helps students 21 years or older who have been out of college two years or more finish their studies.

Baswell, 40, had always wanted to earn a college degree but life got in the way. A Columbus native, Baswell dropped out of New Hope High School more than two decades ago when she became pregnant with the first of her six children.

The man she married was in the military. The couple moved away from Columbus and for 13 years Baswell was a stay-at-home mom.

“I always wanted to go back to school but I just felt then that my primary place was with my children,” Baswell said. “Since my husband was in the military, we were financially secure. I didn’t think I would ever get divorced.”

But they did divorce and Baswell “found the world had taken on a whole new scary aspect.”

That was seven years ago. Baswell earned her GED and moved back to Columbus and enrolled at EMCC, dropping out after the first semester due to “a series of bad decisions.”

“That’s when I started taking drugs,” Baswell said.

Three years ago, her youngest child, Kenneth was born. She was still using drugs at the time and the Department of Human Services took Baswell’s son from her.

That’s when she knew she had to do something. Baswell sought and gained admission to the Recovery House in Columbus. She has been clean ever since and was able to regain custody of Kenneth.

For the past three years she has worked for a fast food restaurant.

“I love the job and I am very grateful because they have been really good to me,” Baswell said of her employers. “But I really need a career that is going to help me financially so I can raise my child.”

Baswell reached out to EMCC C2C Coordinator Michele Arney, who was able to help her sign up for the term that began in January.

C2C is a statewide program launched last year by the Mississippi Institutions of High Learning and the Mississippi Community College Board. The Mississippi Public Universities and the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges assisted with implementation of the initiative.

Students who qualify can enroll at any college or university in the state that offers the classes they need to graduate.

Incentives in the program include grade forgiveness, online classes and flexible schedules, credit for learning or military experience, and financial aid in the form of scholarships, discounts and state grants. Tuition assistance grants will be available to qualified applicants.

Arney, whose office is located on EMCC’s Golden Triangle campus, works in conjunction with C2C Coach Kristen Cockrell, who is the program’s Scooba campus representative.  

Since its implementation, nine students who entered the C2C program at EMCC have graduated. The numbers change daily but as of last count, there were 276 people who have inquired about the program at EMCC, with 31 students admitted and 27 currently enrolled in classes at the college. Those numbers continue to grow, Arney said.

Arney said a majority of the people she helps dropped out of college because of life circumstances, such as a family illness, or because they ran out of financial aid before they completed their degrees. Arney and Cockrell have had to build the C2C program at EMCC from the ground up. What they discovered was that the needs of nontraditional students differ greatly from students who enter college fresh out of high school.

“They work, are married and have children,” Arney said. “Some of these people have even raised children who are now grown. They are coming back to fulfill a dream they never thought was possible before Complete to Compete. We are fulfilling dreams. That is incredible to us.”

The women help the students from start to finish through the enrollment process, assisting them with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and state aid forms, ensuring their college transcripts have been reviewed and checking on any outstanding student loans.

“There is a tremendous amount of labor involved in getting them to the point where they are admitted,” Arney said.

But it is a labor of love, said Arney, who is passionate about her work.

“My hope is that we are the best community college in the state for serving adult learners,” Arney said. “This is not really about Complete to Compete. It looking at how we serve nontraditional students, identifying what we do well and improving those areas where we are weak. C2C is not so much a program as it is a belief that we can help our adult learners in the utmost fashion.”

Baswell is grateful for the program and a second chance at earning her degree. She is enrolled in the Medical Billing and Coding program and took four classes during her first semester.

Baswell admits it hasn’t been easy. Although two of her children reside with their father and three are young adults who now have lives of their own, she cares for Kenneth while working 10-hour days and taking online courses at nights and on weekends.

“It’s nonstop,” Baswell said. “Usually, I am up until past midnight doing schoolwork and I have to get up at 5 a.m. to get Kenneth in daycare before I have to be to work. It has been really tough but I have a grandmother and aunts who live here who have been really supportive.”

Baswell said she was intimidated at the prospect of returning to school and wondered if she would be able to succeed. To complicate matters, she was forced to move in the middle of the semester after her landlord decided he wanted her rental for another purpose.

Baswell, who took her last exam April 25, not only completed her courses but did well.

“Making it through all of that with all of the chaos going on really gave me more confidence about going into the next semester,” Baswell said. “It has been hectic but I have really enjoyed it. I have always loved to learn. I regretted not going back to school earlier but I am just glad I am able to do it now.”

Registration and eligibility information about the C2C program is available online at www.msc2c.org.