Social enterprise helps college dropouts earn degree

By Gabriel Orendain

Did you know that out of every 100 Filipinos who reach college eligibility age, only 23 will enter college? And of these 23, at least 19 will drop out in the first three years, 77 percent of them due to financial constraints? Of the four who will actually graduate, only one will be considered employable.

To address this alarming situation, the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) introduced 20 years ago the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Academic Program (ETEEAP), which helps employees who have not finished college by giving them academic credits for work experience and work-acquired knowledge.

INSPHERO (Inspiring Hero) leverages ETEEAP to give millions of Filipinos not just the opportunity to complete a college program, but to increase their employability as well. INSPHERO wants to instill in its graduates a strong sense of gratitude which they can express by paying forward with greater love for God through their families, dedication and loyalty to their companies, and with care for the communities they are part of.

One such inspiring INSPHERO story is that of Innah Celine Hurtado, Assistant Manager of Optum Global Advantage and President of the INSPHERO alumni. This is her story:

“God’s plans unfold in the most beautiful of ways’’ is what I heard my sister say when I was candidly talking about my college graduation. I had always dreamed of earning a degree, especially since all my siblings are college graduates. But the older I got, the further I felt from reaching my dreams. 

Eleven years ago, my mom was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles. The night before she went into a coma, she motioned me to her bed and she whispered, “Nak, pakabait ka ha?” She slipped into a coma the following morning and two days later, passed away. When she was still alive, I never got to tell her my promise. And so, a few minutes after she quietly passed, I whispered to her: “Ma, I’ll be good and I’ll finish college.” The loss of my mother coupled with my gender identity struggles led me to rock bottom. I was at a loss as to how to keep moving forward. 

My life then went on a cycle of just trying to figure things out until I started to gradually feel that my dream would remain just that – a dream. Thankfully, I realized that God has wonderful plans for me when I came across a college completion program offered by INSPHERO, a social enterprise that gives employed Filipinos who have not completed college the opportunity and assistance to make their diploma dreams come true.

After I enrolled in the program and began my college completion journey, I realized that there were many stories similar to mine. Mitch, a single mom of two kids, and Amiel, a dad of one, set their dreams aside to take care of their kids on their own. Both had to take on multiple side hustles while working in the BPO industry. Jessy’s dad died when she was nine years old and her mom was sickly. She decided to drop out of college to take care of her two siblings, a nephew, and her mom before continuing college after a 15-year hiatus. Kimmy had to leave her family, loved ones, friends and her home to work abroad. Jeff had to miss out on many classes because of his health. Several girls became pregnant when they were very young and had to stop school to provide for their families. These are just a few of the many faces and names of those confronting common challenges: juggling full-time jobs while dealing with financial difficulties, caring for family, school requirements, digital overload and the global pandemic. 

INSPHERO allowed us to fulfill our promise of graduating not only to ourselves but to parents and other family members who also longed for us to conquer the college arena. Moreover, the social enterprise’s importance lies in its ability to bridge the gap between our lost dreams and the chance to make them a reality through self-directed learning, something that we all thought was lost in time and had been buried among so many of our regrets and what-ifs. 

Getting a degree opened many doors for us. With the newfound strength and courage that we gained through this experience, we are now able to pursue with grit and passion the next goals of our lives. Currently, 64 percent of INSPHERO graduates are pursuing further studies (masters and certification courses), 32 percent are in a direct path for career growth or promotion, and 100 percent of its alumni are promoting the program. The INSPHERO Alumni Association is up and running, instilled with the INSPHERO value of gratitude: “It is not happiness that makes you grateful. It is gratefulness that makes you happy.” The alumni share the same INSPHERO Pay Forward philosophy by extending their support to future batches.

We all came together with different stories on how our dream for a college degree had faded or was lost.  But we all have one thing in common—we took the opportunity as a challenge, and through grit and perseverance, we made it.

If you want to know more about INSPHERO and how to pursue your college degree, send an email to [email protected]

Topics: Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Academic Program , Philippine Commission on Higher Education , Innah Celine Hurtado
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