South Piedmont Associate of Arts in a Year Student Will Graduate Debt-Free, a Year Ahead in Her College Goals

Photo of woman in a field.

South Piedmont Associate of Arts in a Year student Katie Gouvatsos.

A third of the way through South Piedmont Community College’s Associate of Arts in Year program, Katie Gouvatsos is 100 percent sure she made the right decision for her education.

“When I graduate in May, I’ll be a year ahead of my peers. I think it shows that I have a good head on my

shoulders and that I’m determined,” she said.

Gouvatsos, 18, graduated from Indian Land High School in Lancaster, South Carolina, and was offered a sizable scholarship to a private four-year university. However, even with the scholarship, she was still going to be paying $20,000 a year in pursuit of her bachelor’s degree.

Instead of accepting the scholarship, Gouvatsos chose to enroll in South Piedmont’s Associate of Arts in a Year program.

The Associate in a Year program allows students to earn an Associate of Arts degree, which would normally take two years, in just 12 months. For North Carolina residents who qualify, the out-of-pocket cost of the program is capped at $1,500.

While Gouvatsos, who still resides in South Carolina, doesn’t qualify for the cap, South Piedmont Community College was still the clear choice for an affordable college education.

“I work part-time as a receptionist at a yoga studio, and I’m also doing a paid internship with a flower importer. I’m able to pay for my education out of pocket and will graduate without any student loan debt,” she said.

“That was very important to me. I want to be as financially smart as possible.”

Three months into the program, Gouvatsos said the Associate of Arts in a Year is challenging. The curriculum is condensed, and she’s had to learn new time-management skills to stay on top of her assignments.

“But I definitely feel like I’m growing as a student,” she said. “The professors are always there for me when I need help, and they give me suggestions on how to improve my work, which will make me better prepared when I do ultimately transfer to a four-year university.”

The Associate of Arts in a Year classes are offered in person, online, and in a HyFlex format that allows students to choose day-by-day how they attend. Gouvatsos recently had to work late, and while she had planned to attend class in person, she made a last-minute decision to log in to class from her computer.

“I knew I wouldn’t make it in time. That flexibility, being able to go to class in a way that fits my day-to-day schedule, helps a lot,” she said.

Gouvatsos plans to transfer her Associate of Arts degree from South Piedmont to a four-year institution and earn a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.  

“I had the chance to shadow my mom’s physical therapist. I like the work. It’s very hands-on, and I like the idea of helping people regain the ability to do the things they enjoy,” she said.

Gouvatsos is looking ahead to her graduation and all that will come after she earns her two-year degree in just 12 months.

“I would say to anyone that if you have the will to do it, you will do it,” she said. “You have to manage your time, and you have to stay on top of your work, but this program is such a great opportunity and such a great asset.”

Learn more about South Piedmont’s Associate of Arts in a Year program.

South Piedmont Associate of Arts in a Year Grad: ‘I Proved to Myself that I am Good Enough’

Photo of Richard Baker

Richard Baker and his wife, Ulunda, at his graduation from South Piedmont Community College.

Two decades ago, Richard Baker put his goal of earning a college degree on hold to help raise his wife’s siblings, and soon after, his own children.

In 2022, through South Piedmont’s Associate of Arts in a Year program, Baker is finally a college graduate.

The Associate of Arts in a Year program allows students to earn an Associate of  Arts degree, which would normally take two years, in just 12 months. Applications for the spring semester are now being accepted. Request more information about the Associate in a Year program here.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” Baker said. “I proved to myself that I am good enough, that it’s never too late to go back to school and learn new things.”

Baker graduated from high school in 1999 and soon after married his high-school sweetheart, Ulunda. The two bought a home and settled into their new life together.

“We had just gotten married when we needed to step in and help raise my wife’s four teenaged brothers and sisters,” Baker said. “We stopped going to school and got second jobs to help out.”

In the years that followed, Baker worked at a boat manufacturer, for the City of St. Petersburg, Florida, and at Sears. His wife worked for Progress Energy. It was a merger with Duke Energy that brought the family to North Carolina in 2012.

The two also became parents to three sons, now ages 16, 14, and 11.

“Life just happened, and the years went by,” Baker said.

In late 2020, Baker learned about South Piedmont’s Associate of Arts in a Year Program. In addition to an accelerated path to a degree, students in the program benefit from South Piedmont’s hybrid-flexible course delivery format, which allows them to attend in person or online, in real time or at the time that suits their schedule. The out-of-pocket cost for the program is also capped at $500 per semester for North Carolina residents who qualify.

For all these reasons, Baker, who now works for Union County, thought the program sounded like a great fit.

“It was challenging at first,” Baker said. “I had to get my brain working again and get used to writing papers again. But going to school brings out the best in you. I felt better about myself right away because I knew I was doing something that was going to open up doors for me.”

From the first day of the program, Baker said he felt supported by the College’s faculty and staff, but that became even more true when he became ill with COVID-19 in August 2021. 

“I was in the hospital for about 20 days. I was on oxygen. I couldn’t even sit up to look at the computer because I was so tired,” he said.

“I thought I was going to have to give up, but my teachers kept encouraging me. They helped me catch up on everything that I’d missed. With their help, I still graduated on time. The teachers were all very supportive, and I appreciated that.”

Baker is now studying business management at Wingate University. He’d like to one day open a gym for children with disabilities.

“I think I want to put on my entrepreneurial hat,” he said.

For anyone who’s put their educational goals on hold or faces challenges they don’t think they can overcome, Baker has this message:

“Do it. You think you can’t do it, but when you try, you’ll find out you can. At South Piedmont, you’re going to have to put the work in, but you’re going to have so much help around you that you will be successful.”

Learn more about the Associate of Arts in a Year program at spcc.edu/associate-in-a-year.

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