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TTU at Highland Lakes Graduate Earns Degree After 50 Year Journey

By Timothy Howard, Digital Media Coordinator

A graduate of the Texas Tech University 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 TTU at Highland Lakes.

Bill graduated high school in 1967 and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. 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 the University of Texas, Bill 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, Texas, and earned an associate's degree in business management in 1971 at Midland College. He then entered into 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 some college courses at The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Houston-Victoria and Tarrant Community 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," Bill said. "My wife and all three of our children have degrees. Education is something that we place a high value on as a family; I just always put mine on hold."

In 2013, Bill and his wife decided to retire in Granite Shoals, Texas, where he continued to dream of completing his bachelor's degree.

"I did not need a degree for professional reasons at that point," Bill reflected. "I had just always wanted one. When we moved to Granite Shoals, I knew that the right time had come for me to complete my education. I originally thought that I was going to have to commute to the University of Texas at Austin 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 would allow Bill to earn a four-year degree from Texas Tech without having to leave the community that he was living in. On top of this, he would benefit from the many high-quality resources and 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," Bill said. "I began taking a mixture of in-person and online classes towards my four-year degree. 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. Bill 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 the achievements in my life that I am most proud of. 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."

Bill also hopes that 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, but rather, I hope that 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, Bill 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."

Bill Penn is a great reminder to us all that no matter where you live or what stage of life that you are in, it is truly never too late to earn a college education.

Bill Penn at TTU at Highland Lakes
Bill Penn at TTU at Highland Lakes