Devon Ausman, a Theater Technician at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, helps students and performers with lighting, sets and special effects at 17 theaters and auditoriums throughout the district.
Before he started his career, he was really close to earning his A.A. But as soon as he completed his entertainment technical theater certificate, he got offered full time work. And he really got a lot of work! In his business, he works very long hours. Even now for the school district, he works 15 to 18 hour days.
“I really wanted to go back and complete my education, but with my hours, how could I?” says Devon. “Then I learned that SEIU members, through our union, had negotiated this great higher education benefit. I did my research and learned it really was as good as it sounds. One thing that’s really great is that there are no classes in this program. I simply complete projects that show an understanding of the material. And there are no tests either!”
College for America is all at students’ own speed during the hours they choose. Devon, who started his coursework in March of 2016, should have his A.A. completed by November 2016. Then he wants to start on his B.A.
“The great thing about College for America is that I can take a breather during the holidays when theater work at the school district really ramps up,” he says. “But I can resume my studies the first month I’m available again.”
As so many SEIU members know, college tuition has become completely out of reach for many working people. Those of us who want to further our education are often locked out. Some of us are left with mountains of debt that will take a lifetime to repay. Costs have increased 11-fold since the late 1970s. It’s crazy. As he was completing his College for America application online, Devon saw the link apply for a Pell Grant to pay for his tuition. He filled out the forms now has 100% of his tuition paid.
Union members at SEIU Local 99 and our sister locals around the country continue to explore how to lift up working people as we lift up the students we serve.