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Dan and Grace Cruz never dreamed they'd one day attend college alongside sons Mike and Nick. It's hectic but worth it, they all say.

The Cruz family
T

hings get a little crazy in the Cruz house. With four college students under the same roof, what would you expect?

“It’s virtually impossible to get us all in one place at one time,” Dan Cruz says.

It all started with Mom. Grace Cruz enrolled at UT Arlington in 2003. Soon her son Nick joined her. Eventually, her husband, Dan, and son Mike followed.

“We’re a crazy bunch,” Grace says, “but we sure save a boatload on books.”

Scheduling is insane.

“Sometimes we’re not even all home at 3 or 4 in the morning,” Grace says. “One night I brought dinner home, sat it on the table and invited Mike to join us. His first thought was that he was in trouble because we were all eating together. I don’t think we had all sat down to a meal together since Christmas.”

Those chaotic schedules make sleep deprivation an issue.

“We’re up really, really late. Two or 3 in the morning is fairly common,” Dan says. “That’s one of the hardest parts—trying to have some kind of family life. You find yourself creating more time by giving up sleep.”

Sleep isn’t the only thing the Cruz family has given to college life. The foursome paid more in tuition and fees in 2007 than Grace earned that entire year.

Unconventional wisdom

Maybe that’s one reason why so few families follow the Cruzes’ lead.

“Having a parent and child concurrently enrolled is not uncommon, but to have both parents and two sons certainly is. This may be the first time it’s happened here,” said Dale Wasson, UT Arlington’s senior associate vice president for student enrollment services.

“I think it reflects the fact that UT Arlington provides a wide range of sought-after educational opportunities and clearly serves a wide audience.”

The Cruz family is taking advantage of that breadth.

Grace is working on a master’s degree in biology; Dan is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology; Nick is working toward a business management degree; and Mike is studying the music business.

Grace led the march to UT Arlington five years ago. After working in information technology for most of her career, she was finally ready to tackle her goal of becoming a doctor. She had always planned to attend college; it just hadn’t worked out.

“I had to get a job at 17 to help support my family,” she explained. “You do what you have to do,” and the traditional time for college studies passed her by.

"Having a parent and child concurrently enrolled is not uncommon, but to have both parents and two sons certainly is. This may be the first time it's happened here."

- Dale Wasson, senior associate vice president for student enrollment services

When her sons reached high school, she began re-evaluating her life.

“I remember telling the kids that some day I was going to go back to school. And they’d say, ‘Mom, you’ll be an old woman.’ Then I asked myself, ‘Is this what I really want to do for the rest of my life?’ ”

She approached Dan with the idea. “He said, ‘Do it.’ ”

She began work on a bachelor’s degree, graduated in 2007 and was accepted into medical school in Tennessee. But, as in her younger days, the timing wasn’t right.

“An out-of-state move would have been very hard on the family,” she said, so she stayed at UT Arlington for a master’s degree. In May, Grace started her second round of medical school applications and hopes to begin training as a physician in fall 2009.

Prior to enrolling in college, Dan worked as a computer technician for Citigroup.

“Times were good around the turn of the millennium, then things went bad,” he said. “One day they decided to outsource and shut down our entire department.”

Looking through want ads and internal postings with Citigroup, he realized the jobs he wanted required a degree.

“For many years, I had felt the desire to go back to school but the time never seemed right,” he said. “After looking at the jobs available to me, I concluded the time was now.”

And why not? Grace and Nick were already there. The more the merrier.

Dan discussed a degree in psychology with the departmental adviser, detailing his interest in communication—particularly how messages are delivered and perceived and how they motivate people to act. That conversation led to his studies in organizational psychology.

Although initially apprehensive about the workload, everything has turned out well.

“I wondered if I would be able to do it all, especially after all these years,” Dan said. “I came here and just love it. I often think about how fortunate I am to be here at UTA when I could so easily be back working the same old grind. Now I’m looking forward to graduation. Still, when I came back to school, it wasn’t just to get a piece of paper; I wanted an education.”

Fitting in

Though their studies take priority, relationships play a key role in college life for both Grace and Dan. They have discovered that making friends—of all ages—is simple at UT Arlington.

“I found that it was easy to develop friendships with people who are much younger than I am,” said Grace, 41. “They keep me energetic.”

Being “more experienced” lends an air of authenticity to older students, especially in history classes.

“My professor was lecturing about social engineering in the late ’60s and early ’70s and about busing programs in 1971 and 1972,” Dan said. “I really got a kick out of that bit of history because I was one of those kids being bused.”

Nick also enjoys studying history. In fact, history brought him to the campus. His middle school history teacher sponsored a field trip to UT Arlington, and he decided right then that he wanted to attend.

Now he may take his degree program on the road. After studying on campus for the past few years, he plans to live in British Columbia, Canada, and take many of his remaining courses online. He’ll return to campus for summer and winter intersession classes and plans to graduate in 2009.

“When I went to British Columbia for the first time, it was the greatest place,” he said. “I want to live and work there permanently.”

Mike, the youngest Cruz, has no plans to leave Texas—at least not yet. But he had no plans to attend UT Arlington, either. His mother convinced him to consider her alma mater.

“She said, ‘Just fill out this paperwork. You don’t even know if you’ll get in.’ Well, I did get in. Then one day, she said, ‘You start school next week.’ ”

At first, Mike wasn’t sure about college life. But after pledging Beta Theta Pi in the spring, his enthusiasm skyrocketed.

“This has been the best semester ever,” he said. “Now I have a real college life. I don’t even live at home much. More often I spend the night in the Beta house.”

To advance from pledge to member, Mike knows the importance of academics. “Beta Theta Pi has had the best average GPA among [Interfraternity Council] fraternities on campus for the past three years,” he said. “You have to pull your weight."

He plans to do so. And although college is harder than he expected (“I didn’t think I’d have to study so much”), he’s glad he took his mother’s advice.

So is Dad.

“We think UTA is an awesome school,” Dan said. “We all love going here.”

 



— Sherry W. Neaves


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