Bill Penn earned his bachelor’s degree after 50 years of work.
A graduate of the Texas Tech University (TTU) at Highland Lakes regional teaching site in Marble Falls recently achieved a lifelong dream. After 50 years of hoping to earn a college education, Bill Penn was able to complete his bachelor's degree through the flexibility of online learning and in-person classes provided by Texas Tech's eLearning & Academic Partnerships.
Penn graduated high school in 1967 and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). After beginning college, his dreams of earning a four-year degree came to a halt as he ran out of funds to continue paying for tuition. After leaving UT, Penn joined the United States Marine Corps and came home a few years later after being honorably discharged.
He then met his future wife in Midland and earned an associate's degree in business management in 1971 at Midland College. Upon completing that degree, he started a career in the grocery business that would last the next 30 years and move him and his family to various places.
Throughout that time, he took college courses at University of Texas at Arlington, University of Houston-Victoria and Tarrant County College in an attempt to complete his bachelor's degree. With many life commitments needing his attention, he would inevitably have to put his dream on pause several times throughout this process.
“I would get transferred in positions to various Texas cities and never had enough time to complete a degree,” Penn said. “My wife and all three of our children have degrees. Education is something we place a high value on as a family. I just always put mine on hold.”
In 2013, Penn and his wife decided to retire in Granite Shoals, where he continued to dream of completing his bachelor's degree.
“I did not need a degree for professional reasons at that point,” Penn said. “I had just always wanted one. When we moved to Granite Shoals, I knew the right time had come for me to complete my education. I originally thought I was going to have to commute to UT or Austin Community College to take classes, but I began to look further into my options. That was when I found TTU at Highland Lakes.”
TTU at Highland Lakes allowed Penn to earn a four-year degree from Texas Tech without having to leave the community in which he was living. On top of this, he benefited from the many high-quality resources and the respected reputation of a Carnegie Tier-One Institution.
“Over the course of 50 years, I had taken many classes but not all of them transferred into my degree plan,” Penn said. “I began taking a mixture of in-person and online classes toward my bachelor's. The class sizes were small, and I enjoyed them immensely because I was able to form a great relationship with my instructors. The online classes were also great as they provided a high amount of flexibility without sacrificing the quality of the course material.”
After diligently working hard in his classes, the time had finally come. Penn graduated in December 2017 with a 4.0 GPA, earning a bachelor of general studies degree with areas of study in history, political science and sociology.
“Graduating from Texas Tech and earning my bachelor's degree is one of my proudest achievements in my life,” Penn said. “Even though I did not necessarily need to complete my degree this late in my life, it feels great to finish what I started. I want to hang my diploma up on the wall next to my wife's and look at it every single day.”
Penn also hopes students can learn from his 50-year journey.
“Though my story may be an inspiration to some, I do not think of myself as a good example of how to earn a degree,” he said. “Rather, I hope I might be able to be a role model for students by showing that you can complete a degree, no matter how long it takes.
“I can't say enough about the programs at Texas Tech and my experience with the eLearning & Academic Partnerships department. Texas Tech was a God-send for me.”
In the future, Penn may even have further plans for his education.
“Earning a master's degree in library science would be very interesting,” he said, “but we will see what the future holds.”