College Now’s adult coordinator shares his comeback story
After spending 15 years in the workforce and earning a six-figure salary, Jason Miller decided he wanted to go back to school.
He was a financial manager at a car dealership and itching to return to college. The four semesters he spent as a late teen working up to only a 1.5 GPA hadn’t gotten him very far. Because his parents didn’t go to college, Miller didn’t have an adult to provide him that foresight at the time.
After losing his job in 2008 when the market took a downturn, Miller soon realized a resume without a degree wouldn’t do him much good.
“I had plenty of experience, but not enough education to find a job,” he explains. “I submitted my resume at many places, went on tons of interviews—but every job I found required a bachelor’s degree.”
Miller took a personality test to help him decide what to study upon returning to school. His results steered him toward earning a degree in paralegal studies.
“When I looked at my first report card and saw four A’s, I kept building momentum from there,” Miller says. “After two years at The University of Akron, I graduated with the highest honor for an associate’s degree. I figured, ‘why not go for a bachelor’s degree, too?’”
That momentum suddenly slowed to a halt, however, when Miller received an end-stage kidney disease diagnosis shortly after he began a bachelor’s degree program in public relations.
“I wasn’t feeling well one day, and when I went to the nurse’s office, they told me to go directly to the hospital,” Miller recalls. “I spent 17 days there before being released; two hours after which I was admitted again for another five days. Because of my diagnosis, I had to drop out of school that semester.”
Miller resumed classes the following semester. He got more involved on campus and became president of four of the nine organizations in which he joined. Miller was also selected to receive The University of Akron’s Student of the Year Award.
And, after enduring one year of dialysis—15 hours a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, after attending classes during the day—Miller overcame his setbacks. A true “comebacker,” he graduated again, earning yet another degree.
Whether he was a recent high school graduate or an experienced professional, going to college wasn’t always easy for Miller. As someone with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Miller also had to realize how using the extra resources available to him could provide value and lead to success.
“The first time I went to college, I didn’t use those accommodations,” Miller says. “I was embarrassed. But 15 years later, technology changed—as well as my attitude—and I learned that using those resources helped me earn better grades.”
As an adult learner, Miller better appreciated the opportunity he had to earn an education.
“I took advantage of tutoring,” he says, adding, “I learned if you put in the hours to get good grades, it pays off. Coming back to college, I realized the value of a dollar. When you’re an adult, you appreciate what you’re spending on school—down to the cost per class.”
Coming Full Circle
After completing an internship with Cleveland-based College Now, Miller became the organization’s adult coordinator—a role in which he can give back to students with similar stories as he experienced.
“We help approximately 25,000 students every year gain better access to college and careers,” Miller says. In fact, Miller’s previous employment with Barberton Community Foundation helped connect College Now to the extra financial support it needed to reach students in Summit County.
“We help sixth graders through senior citizens reduce student loan packages, refocus their abilities to make a living and more,” Miller explains. “I try to encourage kids to pursue new and developing majors, too, like biomimicry.”
Just as Miller followed through college, his best advice for the students he works with at College Now is to keep persisting.
“If you need to slow down, then slow down,” he says. “But just have a plan. With a guided path to develop a structure for your career and future, you’ll reach your goals more efficiently.”
He adds, “Remember, without education, things won’t change.”
Miller will deliver an informal presentation during Summit Education Initiative’s first Comeback2College event on July 21, 2016 at Summa Center at New Seasons in Akron.