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First Complete 2 Compete student graduated UM

Photo courtesy of the University of Mississippi office of Communications.

The first student in Mississippi to earn a degree through the Complete 2 Compete Initiative finished within days of the program launch by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and the Mississippi Community College Board.

Debra Harris had a long college journey and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in general studies with minors in English, business administration, and computer science last month.

Harris began her studies at Ole Miss in 1977, however, her college career was cut short when she joined the Navy.

After a military career and starting a family, Harris returned to campus in 1996 where she completed two more years of college before her mother fell ill, causing her to leave the university once again.

“I had a lot of hours completed, but still no degree,” said Harris.

Harris said she heard about the Complete 2 Compete program on the radio.

The website for the initiative launched in August to provide information and resources for Mississippi adults who have completed some college, but whose requirements fell short of earning a degree.

In Mississippi, more than 2,400 former students over the age of 21 have enough credits to potentially finish a bachelor’s degree without additional coursework.

An additional 28,000 students have enough credits to potentially earn an associate’s degree with no additional coursework, and more than 100,000 former students can complete their degree with minimal additional coursework.

Harris completed the online application for Complete 2 Compete with the expectation that she’d need to complete more courses. However, just a week after her submission, UM Interim Provost Noel Wilkin called to inform her that she would be eligible for a degree without any additional coursework.

However, just a week after her submission, UM Interim Provost Noel Wilkin called to inform her that she would be eligible for a degree without any additional coursework.

The decision was reached after a Complete to Compete coach and others on the Ole Miss campus determined the courses she completed would qualify her for a degree.

“As we were looking through Debra’s transcripts, it all started coming together,” said Audra Trnovec, Complete 2 Compete coach in Ole Miss’s Bachelor of General Studies office. “We reviewed her previous coursework and consulted with different departments on campus to correlate which classes could count toward graduation.”

It was decided that Harris had successfully completed enough courses to earn minors in three different areas, allowing her to be eligible for her degree.

“I was speechless,” said Harris. “I was thinking it would be nice if I just needed one or two more classes. I was very excited.”

Harris, who is from Grenada said she hopes to use her degree to pursue career opportunities in adult literacy.

“College degrees have incredible value to the individuals who have earned them,” Wilkin said. “The knowledge gained and the associated credential can open many doors. In Debra’s case, she had already done the work, gained the knowledge and was missing the credential. This program has the potential to find these cases and the potential to show people the paths available to finish their degrees.”

Students who enroll in the program are also eligible to be considered for a one-time grant to eliminate past-due balances on accounts at previous institutions or to pay application fees for re-enrolling in courses.

“I am so pleased to hear that the first degree has been awarded through the Complete 2 Compete initiative,” said Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education. “Debra represents what the project is all about. I congratulate her and hope that the thousands of former students like Debra will all take advantage of this opportunity. I look forward to the continued success of Complete 2 Compete as many more Mississippians benefit from this life-changing program.”

UM said they have received more than 150 applications through the program since its launch last month.

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