By Mike Lesczinski and Dana Yanulavich
You could say that the Drivers are driven to succeed. But all puns aside, this family is a testament to how embracing innovative educational opportunities can help individuals earn college degrees in a cost effective, time efficient manner.
Considering their professional achievements—Jeremy Driver is CEO of Aztec Oil and Gas and his wife Kara is an author, artist, and social entrepreneur—it comes as no surprise that the Houston natives value education, for themselves and for their children.
Jeremy and Kara first met while attending the Quail Valley Church in the town of Missouri City, just outside Houston, Texas. The high school sweethearts attended Houston Baptist University, a private Christian institution focused on faith and scholarship. They married during the first fall semester, and worked on their general education requirements. But soon, they found the traditional brick-and-mortar experience lacking fulfillment. They wanted more—they wanted to see the world. So two years after exchanging vows, Jeremy enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at his wife’s urging.
Over the next six years, the two traveled the globe from military base to military base. Jeremy became a Chinese linguist with top secret clearance. Kara meanwhile remained committed to earning her degree, albeit cognizant of the challenges to doing so as a military wife on a tight budget. She spent her days exploring a variety of educational options.
The couple discovered Excelsior College after a visit to the base educational office. They were both intrigued by the program’s flexibility. Jeremy took notice of Excelsior’s broad transfer policy. By applying his previously earned college credit as well as military training that had been approved as college-level equivalent by the American Council on Education, he could reduce time to completion and lower tuition costs. Kara, an independent and self-directed learner all her life, required a different approach and found it through credit-by-examination.
“Excelsior College opened the doors for us to finish,” said Kara.
In 2003, they both graduated from Excelsior with Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies degrees.
Credential in hand, Jeremy applied to become an officer and begin pilot training. But life intervened and a family medical issue convinced him to leave the service and take a job with a Houston-based oil company. His time in the military had forged him into a leader and with a degree he was able to quickly move up the career ladder. Soon though, it became clear that he would hit a glass ceiling without a more specialized education credential.
In his view, a graduate education would prove he had the business competencies required of corporate managers. In 2008, he returned to Northeastern University and graduated a year later with both an MBA and a Master of Science of Accounting.
The decision paid dividends, almost immediately. That year, Jeremy was hired as CEO/President of Duma Energy Corp. Five years later, in March 2014, he became CEO of Aztec Oil and Gas.
Meanwhile, the Drivers’ family kept growing.
In 2003, the couple welcomed a daughter, Savannah. In 2010, Chenbairui “Becky” Ding arrived from China and in 2013, Deniss, an exchange student from Latvia. Through it all, education remained a value that neither Jeremy nor Kara was willing to hand over to strangers. So, Kara decided to become a “home school mom.”
“I think traditional schools sometimes suck the life out of the desire to learn because things are force-fed to students,” says Kara. “We use a lot of non-traditional methods to educate.”
Kara uses a self-directed method to tap into Savannah and Deniss’ gifts, focusing on bringing out their passions and discovering what they are curious about.
Becky arrived in the U.S. to attend college on an international student visa. It was up to the Drivers to find her a path to do so without breaking the bank. As an exchange student, Becky did not qualify for Federal Financial Aid. She enrolled in a local community college (federal immigration law requires a full-time course load at a physical university) and began to map out a plan. As they had years prior for their own education, the Drivers sought out alternative, less costly, pathways to degree attainment.
“We had to be creative in both maintaining her visa status as well as moving her towards her degree goals,” said Jeremy. Becky discovered that the best route was for her to complement brick-and-mortar classes with Excelsior College Examinations. She transferred in an additional 16 elective credits earned through New York University language proficiency exams.
In fact, by “mixing and matching” sources of credits, Becky was able to earn both an associate degree from a community college and a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior faster than either route on its own. She is set to graduate from Excelsior in early 2015.
It’s a strategy that Kara is replicating with her other children—Deniss has already earned 24 credits via language proficiency exams— and decided to share with the world by authoring a book, The 1 Year Degree: How to Earn Your Degree in 1 Year or Less without Debt. It explores the economics of earning a bachelor’s degree and offers readers a tutorial on how to earn a quality and affordable degree by leveraging non-traditional sources of credit like examinations, portfolio assessment, and prior learning credits earned via ACE-approved sources.
The Drivers discovered an educational path that worked well for them and have shared it with their children, and now with the publication of Kara’s book, the rest of the world.