Free Bay Area program helps adults finish college degrees

Kevin Giordano found himself back on the St. Petersburg College campus years after graduating.

"I'm 37. The last thing I thought I was going to do was go back to school," said Giordano.

He got his associate's degree and had some credits toward his bachelor's degree in culinary arts but didn't finish.

Giordano eventually started substitute teaching.

"I was their third teacher in six days and I knew after that the kids needed a teacher who was going to stay," he recalled.

Through St. Petersburg College, he learned about the Complete Tampa Bay program. He signed up online and was paired with a completion coach.

"I assist them with reviewing their transcripts, reviewing their admission requirements, what they're looking to do personally, professionally and then based off of all of those, I work with the partner schools in the area," said Matt Smith, a Complete Tampa Bay completion coach who worked with Giordano.

Giordano said the requirements were easy.

"Talk to your counselor twice out of the quarter, email, phone, whatever way you choose to and maintain at least a C average," said Giordano.

The counseling was free, thanks to the Lumina Foundation.

"They didn't charge a thing and they actually paid for all of my schooling," he said.

Chuck Tiernan, the network director for Leap Tampa Bay College Access, said some students are eligible for scholarships, too.

Giordano said he succeeded in school in ways that he did not before.

"My last two quarters I had straight As, if not I had all As and a B. I was on the dean honor roll every quarter," said Giordano.

And it wasn't long before he got his degree.

"I powered through a bachelor's program in a year and a half. Being able to do that, working full time, taking care of two kids is dang near impossible. I wouldn't have thought but we made it work. They were encouraging", said Giordano.

It was a simple change that changed his future.

"Sometimes you just need that little encouragement. It's kind of like being in the classroom. You need that one teacher that helps you turn gears and change direction from going one direction to another," said Giordano.

For more information about the Complete Tampa Bay program, visit