Meet Shirley Abels

Shirley Abels, Test Drive a Degree student at Southern Miss

When Shirley Abels made the decision to return to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in fall 2002, she was planning for the career beyond the one she currently has. What helped her make this decision, though, was The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Test Drive a Degree program, which helps former students get back on track to earning their bachelor’s degree.

The Test Drive a Degree program, which offers a tuition-free scholarship for one class, was designed to allow any former college students who have not attended college in the past three years to reintroduce themselves to higher education. The program, first launched in summer 1996, is being re-introduced by Southern Miss Gulf Coast for students entering the fall 2012 semester.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.5 percent of the population in Mississippi age 25 or above earned their bachelor’s degree – a large difference compared to the national average of 27.9 percent. The goal for Southern Miss, as well as the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, is to increase the number of individuals with a bachelor’s degree in Mississippi.

Abels, who earned her associate’s degree 25 years before becoming a Test Drive a Degree candidate, applied to the university for her bachelor’s degree in history. With her children grown, Abels said she wanted to see if she could put some of her time to constructive use.

Shirley Abels quote about Test Drive program

“I wanted a life change and thought I would accomplish something I have always wanted to do, but never have. I have liked history all my life and even continued on for my master’s degree in history after completing my bachelor’s degree.”

Abels, who has worked with the U.S. Navy for 25 years, is planning to teach history to college freshmen and sophomores after retirement in several years. Her advice to anyone considering a return to college for their bachelor’s degree, “I don’t think anyone knows what they are capable of doing until they are really willing to try.”

“The Test Drive program gave me the opportunity to see if I could actually achieve this goal because I was not sure I could. It’s disappointing to hear anyone say that can’t do something. I think they should try before coming to any conclusions. I believe if you are willing to work hard and long enough at it, you can achieve more than you ever expect.”

To be eligible for the tuition-free scholarship for one class, the Test Drive a Degree program is available to candidates who have not attended college during the past three years, have not completed a bachelor’s degree, and are eligible for admission to Southern Miss.