USA Today Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Banyan Branch Downtown Community Television Center Kodak



Nearly 200 students responded to an online casting call. They posted their personal stories at a purpose-built website; 78 uploaded audition videos. An online vote selected one cast member. The other eight finalists were chosen by the producers, and all were given a video camera to film their own back stories.


  • Charneé Ball, a US Navy veteran at Valencia Community College in Orlando
  • Shane Burrows, who works full-time while attending Sierra Community College in California
  • Brandon Krapf, an Iraq war veteran now at American University and in the US Army Reserves
  • Kathryn McCormick, a single parent, also enrolled at Valencia Community College
  • Dennis Medina, a Boston police officer and a student at Bunker Hill Community College


Production costs were covered through a grant awarded to DCTV in collaboration with Purple States by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kodak contributed pocket video cameras and was acknowledged online.

Editorial Control

The producers selected the students and determined the content of the videos.


  • Produced by Cynthia Farrar, John Kennedy, and Cinnamon Kennedy
  • Written and directed by Phil Frank
  • Video editing by Amy Overbeck
  • Vidography by Chris Overbeck and Stan Heist
  • Audio Recording by Bernie Ozol

5 Non-Traditional Students

Episode 1: Introduction

For three quarters of American college students, the path to a degree is anything but a straight line. The students featured in the series introduce themselves and the concerns they share with millions of other American students.

Episode 2: Kathryn - Waitress To Physicians Assistant?

For Kat, going to college to become a physician’s assistant is nearly impossible: she waitresses on top of taking 16 credit hours on top of looking after her 2 girls. She takes her dream and her worries to a Congressman and to an advocate for higher education.

Episode 3: Shane - Strapped For Cash And Credits

Shane works full time for AT&T and doesn’t have the flexibility or the financial resources to make steady progress toward a degree. He wonders if he will ever finish. He talks with a top federal education official about strategies for getting through more quickly and with less debt.

Episode 4: Dennis - Cop In Class At 1 A.M.

As a Boston Police officer on a Strike Force, Dennis works from 4 pm to midnight, and often has to be in court during the day. He takes midnight classes at his local community college. He talks with a Congressman about what it will take to finish his degree.

Episode 5: Charneé - Gay Veteran, No GI Bill

Charneé served in the Navy but isn’t eligible for G.I. bill benefits because of her discharge characterization under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She dreams of becoming an aviation mechanic, and is $34,000 in debt from student loans. She talked with a Congressman about her prospects.

Episode 6: Brandon - GI Bill, Still In Debt

Brandon served with the Army in Iraq. He welcomes legislation designed to help veterans graduate with less debt. But older veterans like himself are up to their eyeballs in college loans. Brandon explains to the architect of the new GI Bill that many veterans are being left behind.

Episode 7: Conclusion

The five students gather on the Washington Mall and share their life stories. They reflect on what happened when they talked to policymakers. What have they learned? Did they manage to convey the realities behind the low college completion rates?

Trailer: Working For A Degree

This trailer features self-filmed footage of students who auditioned for the series, and who are earning salaries and a degree at the same time.

Trailer: Fighting For A Degree

In this trailer, veterans who auditioned for the series talk about the challenges of going to college.

Trailer: Students As Parents

This trailer features students who auditioned for the series and are bringing up children while working toward a degree.