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August 27, 2014, 6:51 am

Even tuition-free, college a challenging commitment

Myrna Coleman wanted to set an example for her four children by going back to college for an associate’s degree, the first step toward pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher.

Along the way, the 46-year-old Southwest Philadelphia woman wound up inspiring her 91-year-old mother, Martha Young, who dropped out of the ninth-grade due to a life-threatening health condition. She recovered, but four years had passed by and she went to work instead.

“I’m glad my mom lived to see it. She wants to go back and get her diploma,” said Coleman, who was part of the graduating class of Parent University at Peirce College, an innovative partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and Peirce that allowed her to earn an associate’s degree tuition-free.

Rita Toliver-Roberts, vice president of academic advancement for Peirce College, said she supported the partnership between Parent University and Peirce College because it helped more working adults in Philadelphia obtain a college degree and made it easier for parents to talk to their children about pursuing higher education.

Coleman and 16 fellow graduates can inspire college students to complete their degree programs. That doesn’t always happen, Toliver-Roberts said.

Peirce College, a nonprofit four-year accredited college catering to working adults, offers accelerated courses and online programs for students with busy work schedules, in addition to traditional classes.

Coleman relied on family and friends for support in balancing work, household chores and college studies. Her daughter, Alicia, 23, helped with cooking and cleaning, and her son, Aaron, 24, drove her around so she could complete errands. She saw how her youngest child, Aric, 13, bubbled with excitement over her college studies.

“I really couldn’t have done it without them,” Coleman said proudly. She encourages other working adults who want to pursue higher education goals to declare their intentions to family and friends and involve them by asking for their support.

“Call on them so you can continue and stay focused. It’s very easy to get off track and get into other things,” she said.

With an associate's degree in General Studies, Coleman plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree, one of the qualifications for working as a teacher. She now works in the School District of Philadelphia as a special education classroom assistant.

The most challenging part of juggling work and school was staying focused while undergoing personal difficulties. She coped with a death in the family, financial pressure, major surgery and separation from her spouse and the anxiety over the deployment of her son, Anre Young, a 30-year-old Marine who was sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But she wanted to set an example for all of them.

“You can achieve your goals if you work hard,” Coleman said, proudly. “This is one step closer to my goal of becoming a teacher and getting my bachelor’s degree.”

Dr. William Hite Jr., superintendent of schools, lauded the joint partnership with Peirce, saying it helps supports Philadelphia’s “longstanding commitment to education and degree attainment.”

“Parents serve as the first teachers to our children and play a large part in their academic success, which only emphasizes the need for our parents to have a solid education foundation. As a result of Parent University, we have provided the resources, support, and education necessary for our parents to succeed,” Hite said in a prepared statement.


Contact staff writer Wilford Shamlin III at 215-893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .