So many people look back fondly on their teen years as the era in which they enjoyed fewer responsibilities. Marlene Negrete's path in life was different. Becoming pregnant at age 16 forced her to take on life's greatest responsibility – being a parent – at a time when her peers were still looking forward to "grownup life."
"When I found out I was pregnant," she reflects, "My first idea was getting to the counselor and figuring out how to graduate faster because I had to be successful."
Instead of parties, date nights, and traditional college, from ages 17 to 21, she worked two jobs and attended community college at night.
After a decade of hard work and dedication to her family and her education, Marlene is benefiting from her life decisions.
"I’m 26 and getting my master’s,” she proclaims.
Today, Marlene is a two-time graduate of the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) and is ready to reap the rewards.
Everything that I was learning, it was a straight line to what I was doing at work. I wouldn’t have been able to get into those positions if it wasn’t for UAGC.
A Career Worth the Investment
Marlene is now the mother to two young children and is dedicated to the family she began with her husband when they were just high school students. With a family that depended on her, she says she knew that any educational investment she made needed to pay off.
That’s what drove her to the health care programs at UAGC. After earning her associate degree from another institution, Marlene was able to transfer credits toward her bachelor’s degree at UAGC and focus on coursework that would boost her credentials and confidence in the workplace. She finished her Bachelor of Arts in Health Care Administration program in 2022, and quickly re-enrolled for her master’s degree in the same field.
Why double down? Because she saw how much her education paid off.
“Everything that I was learning, it was a straight line to what I was doing at work,” Marlene says.
Since graduating with her master’s degree in 2023, Marlene has received two promotions, which she says were a direct result of her education.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get into those positions if it wasn’t for UAGC,” she acknowledges.
Marlene’s newest role is project manager for a nonprofit health care organization. That’s a double-win, as she’s secured a highly coveted position: the Project Management Institute reports rising demand for project managers through 2027 – in one of the country’s fastest-growing fields. As many as 1.8 million new health care jobs will be open every year through 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s a tremendous opportunity for any qualified worker, and when considering which direction she was going to take her life and career, Marlene knew she had to seize the moment.
“Currently, health care is growing every day and there’s a need for more services as our populations keep growing,” she explains. “To stay in competition with the different positions within the industry, the master’s degree is definitely something that’s needed.”
Her graduate degree also gives her a competitive advantage and makes her stand out against the competition in the workforce.
“My degree shows that I have gone the extra step in getting the education and learned the field,” she explains.
An Education That Fits
Marlene credits much of her success to the online format at UAGC, which afforded her the flexibility to raise her kids, work full time, and finish all of her classes without interruption. The past several years have all been about her education, and though she’s made sacrifices, she knows there’s a bright future ahead.
“I would do my homework late at night and every weekend, and I’m so excited to finally be done because I don’t know anything other than school really,” she says. “Our only hobbies have been going out to eat and spending time with each other.”
What made it worth it, Marlene explains, was hearing her name called at the 2022 UAGC commencement ceremony.
“I am proud to be UAGC because I never thought that I would be a college graduate,” she says. “When I received my bachelor’s, that, to me, was everything.”
One Last "School Trip"
For Marlene, earning her degree was a major accomplishment she wanted to share with her husband, children, and mother-in-law. So for the 2023 Spring commencement ceremony, they all drove 15 hours from their home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Glendale, Arizona.
“I had a shirt made that says, ‘I mastered it,’” Marlene says. “My husband’s shirt said, ‘I survived my wife’s master’s degree, and my son has one that says, ‘I survived my mom’s master’s degree.’
“Even my mother-in-law wants one now.”
As Marlene reflects on her journey through college and the years that she’s put into her education, her words reflect the profound sense of accomplishment that comes with graduating and being the first in her family to have a master’s degree.
“I am raising the bar for all of my family,” she says. “I’m letting them know that higher education is definitely achievable.
She adds that her journey from a teen mom to a career and family-focused high achiever is a testament to the impact of accessible education.
Having experienced a graduation ceremony before, Marlene was perhaps even more proud to hear her name called again just one year after finishing her bachelor’s degree.
“That, to me, was just amazing, mind blowing,” she says. “It gives you this happiness that I can’t explain. It’s something that lets you know that all of your hard work was worth it.”