FGCU Complete ‘a lifeline’ for students seeking degree completion

4 – minute read

Alissa Perry wanted to finish the college degree she started when she was pregnant with her first child. But she didn’t know how to make it happen. Twenty-one years later, with her fourth child starting college, Perry is about to graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University thanks to her hard work and one innovative program.


“I absolutely would not be in the position to graduate without FGCU Complete,” she says. “I am about to reach my lifelong goal.”

Earning a college degree is a significant milestone for many, but circumstances can sometimes interrupt the path to graduation. Recognizing the importance of providing opportunities for students to finish their degrees, Florida Gulf Coast University introduced FGCU Complete. The degree-completion program offers anyone with previously earned college credits at FGCU or elsewhere the chance to pick up where they left off and work toward a degree in one of six fields.


A supplemental instruction support specialist at the State College of Florida Collegiate School, Perry has worked in the K-12 school system for much of her adult life. But without a college degree, she felt she was passed over for promotions and opportunities. “I had the same work experience as the new teachers coming in, and I had the same amount of credits, if not more, than my co-workers. I knew I was educated, I knew what I had, but I was struggling not to feel inferior.”


What kept Perry from finishing her degree?

“Money,” she says simply, noting there were several semesters over the years where she could not afford to continue her studies. “I had to ask myself, ‘Do I take this class or do I support my family, pay the rent?’”


A year ago, when her youngest child looked at colleges, Perry was in a better financial situation. She contacted FGCU to find out how she could pay off past-due balance and resume her academic journey. To her surprise, she discovered she no longer owed the university money.


“Alissa only needed two courses to graduate but did not have the finances to pay off her remaining balance and additional tuition,” says Kristen Vanselow, assistant vice president in Innovative Education and Partnerships at FGCU. At the same time Perry was looking to come back, Vanselow and her team were trying to contact her to give her some good news.

FGCU graduate Alissa Perry
Alissa Perry officially graduates with a bachelor’s in integrated studies the day after her August birthday. “It’s my gift to myself,”

“We were able to remove her debt with the generosity of the Elsa and Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation award and support her return to the nest.”




“I feel so extremely blessed,” Perry says. “I have no clue how that award found its way to me. It has changed everything for me. I am beyond grateful.”


Perry’s debt was forgiven because she was part of a special program for adult learners. A few semesters after she started at FGCU, Perry went to sign up for classes and found the seat she needed was reserved for the FGCU Complete program. Curious, she checked it out online.

“I learned a few seats are reserved for people who need certain classes at times that accommodate work schedules,” she says. “I thought, ‘But that’s me.’ It was like the program had just been sitting there for me.”


Combined with debt forgiveness made possible by the Soderberg Foundation, the Industrial Development Authority of Lee County and additional university funds, FGCU Complete is designed to help adult learners leap the final hurdles to graduation. Through the program, more than 120 students have completed degrees since 2021.


FGCU Complete courses are available to earn a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship, integrated studies, child and youth studies, criminal justice, legal studies or forensic studies. Students can also minor in management.


Perry says everything about the program is designed to help adult learners like her graduate. She valued having a dedicated academic counselor to navigate the course schedule, not to mention the seats reserved for FGCU Complete students. “FGCU Complete has been my absolute lifeline,” she says.


Perry officially graduates with a bachelor’s in integrated studies the day after her August birthday. “It’s my gift to myself,” she says of the degree over 20 years in the making.


“I have pictures from when my kids were little when I got my associate degree. You couldn’t tell me then that I wasn’t going to get my bachelor’s. Just like you can’t tell me now I won’t get my master’s – or my doctorate if I decide to. My kids will see in those pictures, from them being little to being young adults now, that their momma never stopped.”


Perry tears up as she adds, “I literally owe FGCU my dream.”

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