Dr. Jenni Murphy is passionate about the educational attainment of working age adults and a vocal advocate for addressing these needs from every angle. Her work is centered at the intersections of higher education, workforce impact, economic development, and community advancement. As the founder of ProjectAttain!, Murphy co-leads the organization while also serving as dean for the College of Continuing Education at Sacramento State.
Under Murphy’s leadership, Project Attain! aims to decrease equity gaps, achievement gaps, and skills gaps, by increasing the number of working age adults with diplomas, high-quality certificates, and degrees to 60 percent by 2025. No one doubts she has the right blend of tenacity, credibility, and experience to achieve those results. Among her many accomplishments, she is also a former college comebacker.
Murphy knows intimately that life’s detours can sabotage an education plan and that returning to college can be an uphill journey, one that requires a delicate balancing of coursework, employment, family responsibilities, and overall costs. She experienced that herself and notes that finding the resourcefulness to “stick with it” ultimately leads to positive economic, social, and multi-generational success.
Murphy’s advice for anyone trying to go back to school?
“Show up. Ask for help. Persist. Also, be assured that people working in education, workforce development, community based organizations, and social services want to help. Many of them were at the crossroad where you are now. Think big, be positive, and you will get there.”
In her guest commentary with CAL MATTERS, Dr. Su Jin Jez identifies opportunities for higher education institutions to address the distinct challenges facing students who leave college before graduating.
"We need to make higher education more flexible and feasible for the millions of Californians who now have the promise of new college funding on the horizon."
~ Dr. Su Jin Jez
ProjectAttain! is a key resource in helping institutions understand and address the policies and practices that can unintentionally limit access and success for working-age adults seeking to complete their diploma, certificate, or degree.
While many adults returning to school find their way back on their own, others benefit from the support and guidance of an experienced coach.
Research from The Graduate! Network shows that comebackers who meet with a coach or navigator were 2.4 times likely to re-enroll. Those who had 14 or more interactions with a navigator were 4 times more likely to re-enroll.
ProjectAttain! offers one-on-one support from attainment navigators who guide comebackers through the process of returning to school by providing free, institution-neutral services as they plan their path to complete a diploma, certificate, or degree.
Our navigators understand that every learner has their own story and tailor the coaching process to meet them where they are.
Navigators help comebackers:
Reconnect with their hopes and dreams
Review previous education experience
Recognize potential barriers and identify strategies to resolve them
Identify support services to increase their success
Choose the program that best suits their personal or professional goals
Map out their return plan
Gather the materials needed to apply and re-enroll, and
Connect with the adult-focused admissions team at their selected program, college, or university
Manuel Morfin had many reasons to return to college. Starting a family and achieving a higher earning potential at his current banking job were all highly compelling, but it was his father’s dying wish for Manuel to complete his degree that drove him to set his sights on finishing his education.
An inspiration for mathematical thinking and work ethic, Morfin’s father was a role model. As he battled cancer, he urged him to return to school.
“Just as my father was at the end of his life, my wife and I welcomed a baby girl. It was a powerful moment, and I knew it was time for me to set a goal to reach new opportunities. And being the oldest of four siblings, I felt I had to lead by example and honor my father’s wishes.”
The blow of the Great Recession, along with the cost of college and navigating administration and enrollment pathways was a lot to handle. Morfin had paused his higher education eight times.
“People tell you how hard it is to lose a parent or become a parent, and you really don’t know until you go through it,” he shares. “I’ve had to balance many things in my life as an adult, which led me to leave college.”
But Morfin had set a goal -- to earn his degree before 40 -- and he knew he would have to balance many obstacles in his recommitment to his education. He found the support he needed through a flexible degree-completion program at Sacramento State. “With encouragement from colleagues and family, plus resources from the College of Continuing Education, I feel like I have the support I need to reach this goal.”
“I knew I had to make some moves, and reconsider what I could do to earn more. I like my job, but I know that working in banking, I’d be making about $30,000 more annually with a degree.”
Manuel has already opened a college savings account for his daughter, putting his college education to work to support her future.
“I’ve been in your shoes, and If I can do it, so can you,” Manuel says enthusiastically. “Reconsider how college can help you achieve your goals and how a degree can present new opportunities. You’ll see how it’s truly worth it.”
Do you have a comebacker story to share?
ProjectAttain! would love to celebrate your success. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.