Debra Harris earned her Bachelor of General Studies degree from UM last month through the Complete 2 Compete Initiative. Credit: Jessica Coker Hughes

Debra Harris of Grenada is the first student in Mississippi to earn a degree through the Complete 2 Compete Initiative.

“I was speechless,” Harris said.

Harris was awarded a bachelor’s degree in general studies with minors in English, business administration and computer science last month from the University of Mississippi. Harris hopes to use her degree to build a career in adult literacy.

After Harris began studies at UM in 1977, her college career was cut short when she joined the Navy. After a military career and starting a family, Harris returned to campus in 1996. She completed about two more years of college before her mother fell ill, causing Harris to leave the university once again.

Harris heard about the Complete 2 Compete program on the radio. The website for the initiative launched in August to provide information and resources for Mississippi adults who have completed some college, but whose requirements fell short of earning a degree.

Complete 2 Compete is the first partnership between the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and the Mississippi Community College Board. The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges is also partnering in the project. The Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security provided funding grants for the project.

“I had a lot of hours completed, but still no degree,” Harris said.

Turned out, she had successfully completed enough courses to earn minors in three different areas, allowing her to be eligible for her degree.

The purpose of Complete 2 Compete is to reach out to adults with some college coursework and encourage them to finish what they started.

Complete 2 Compete site launches for students to finish what they started

Harris completed the online application with the expectation that she would need to complete more courses. However, just a week after her submission, UM Interim Provost Noel Wilkin called to inform her that she would be eligible for a degree without any additional coursework.

The decision was reached after a Complete to Compete coach and others on the Ole Miss campus determined the courses she completed would qualify her for a degree.

“As we were looking through Debra’s transcripts, it all started coming together,” said Audra Trnovec, Complete 2 Compete coach in the university’s Bachelor of General Studies office. “We reviewed her previous coursework and consulted with different departments on campus to correlate which classes could count toward graduation.”

“College degrees have incredible value to the individuals who have earned them,” Wilkin said. “The knowledge gained and the associated credential can open many doors.

“In Debra’s case, she had already done the work, gained the knowledge and was missing the credential. This program has the potential to find these cases and the potential to show people the paths available to finish their degrees.”

“I am so pleased to hear that the first degree has been awarded through the Complete 2 Compete initiative,” said Glenn Boyce, Mississippi commissioner of higher education. “Debra represents what the project is all about. I congratulate her and hope that the thousands of former students like Debra will all take advantage of this opportunity.”

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.