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Best & Brightest: After a 13-year Absence From School, Academic Excellence and an Associate Degree

While explaining her future career plans, Audra Jeffers’ voice bubbles with excitement.

“I plan to start at West Chester University in the fall to get my bachelor’s in nursing and eventually get my master’s, although I am not sure where I want to go to get my graduate degree,” she says.

The 37-year-old mother of three is eager to realize her goals.

Jeffers, a graduating nursing major at the Community College of Philadelphia, won two scholarships funded by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. As a New Century Silver Scholar, Jeffers will receive a $2,000 stipend. She will also receive a $1,250 stipend in August for being named part of the Coca-Cola All-State Academic Team program.


Not bad for a woman who flirted with academic failure but eventually regained her footing, school officials say. In fact, Jeffers is the exception. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, only 31 percent of public community college students go on to complete either an associate or bachelor’s degree in six years.

High-achieving students like Jeffers represent, through their accomplishments, the high standards and ideals of two-year colleges, says Dr. Stephen Curtis, president of Community College of Philadelphia.

After high school, Jeffers, a native of Trinidad, attended Howard University to study computer information systems. Lacking focus and disenchanted with her major, she dropped out.

“I was in college, but I didn’t know why,” she says. It would be 13 years before Jeffers resumed her postsecondary studies.

After Howard, Jeffers worked as an esthetician for seven years. But a favor for a friend would cause Jeffers’ career plans to change.

“My friend had a grandmother who was really sick. She wanted someone to stay at home with her,” recalls Jeffers, who politely obliged. “She had a visiting nurse who came to the house two or three times a week. I never knew nurses came to your home.”

Watching the nurse carefully tend to her patient — taking blood pressure and checking her vitals signs — Jeffers asked lot of questions. “She sparked my interest in nursing,” Jeffers says.

In 2005, Jeffers transferred her credits from Howard University and enrolled in her current institution. There she found friends and support. Currently, Jeffers works part time at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and serves as a student ambassador at the college all while taking care of her children ages 11, 8 and 4.

“When I first started, I was very apprehensive. I didn’t know what the student body would be like or if I would even do well,” says Jeffers. “I knew that I didn’t want to get back into skin care and that I wanted to do something where I would have a steady income. I wanted a career.”

With graduation looming, Jeffers is no longer apprehensive about taking the next step toward her goals. “My focus is totally different than it was years ago. I don’t have too much room to make mistakes. I have to show my kids, especially my son, that when you try hard, anything is possible.”

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