Once considered a high school dropout, this Texas Tech graduate now holds a high school diploma and two master’s degrees from the university.
Maurice Thomas was expecting to graduate from a prestigious private high school until, at 16, his guidance counselor told his parents he was “not college material.” As of August 2023, Thomas has succeeded mightily, earning a bachelor's degree and a total of three master's degrees, as well as receiving his high school diploma.
Getting there was quite a journey for the military veteran, whose story includes two stops through TTU K-12, 15 years apart, and both in-person and online programs through the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University.
“My parents were paying $10,000 a semester. That included some financial aid for me to be enrolled in that private high school,” Thomas said. “Yet they were told at a parent-teacher conference that I wasn't fit for college. That's when my parents enrolled me in what was then TTUISD, now TTU K-12. This was around 2004.”
Thomas said the superintendent at the time, Gib Weaver, allowed him to take dual credit courses, even at only 16 years old, after passing the THEA (Texas Higher Education Assessment) exam.
“Even though I was a high school student, TTU K-12 allowed me the flexibility to enroll in college courses through Lone Star College in The Woodlands, Texas,” Thomas said. “Before graduating from high school, I completed enough college coursework that I was accepted into Sam Houston State University (SHSU) as a transfer student instead of an incoming freshman.”
However, Thomas dropped out of high school in 2008, testing instead for the GED and scoring in the 99th percentile, to enlist in the U.S. Army during Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. That path ultimately delayed his admission to SHSU until January 2015 by serving five and half years on active duty.
Since his discharge from the U.S. Army in March 2015, Thomas has earned his bachelor's degree from SHSU, a Master of Arts in Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C., a Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) from Texas Tech, and he just completed Texas Tech's Professional MBA (PMBA) program.
But even after all the successes for the young man who was not supposed to be college material, something continued to nag at Thomas.
“I still had the stigma of being a high school dropout by joining the military,” Thomas explained. “Then I found a provision in the Texas Education Code that grants honorably discharged veterans a high school diploma if they quit school to join the military. The military has afforded me many opportunities in life; however, I ultimately had to make a choice between completing high school and serving in the military doing a job I love.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, a veteran who dropped out of high school to join the military is eligible for a high school diploma by completing this form. Also, it does not matter if the veteran previously obtained a GED.
In March 2023, Thomas dropped by the TTU K-12 offices to be presented with his high school diploma.
“At TTU K-12 we're all about meeting students where they are, even if it's years after they left,” said Scott Lucas, the school's superintendent. “We jumped at the chance to close this loop for Maurice and present him with the diploma he earned by way of his service and his studies. Maybe more servicemembers can get this detail taken care of – they certainly deserve it.”
In Thomas' next chapter at Texas Tech, he enrolled in the MSDS program which was onsite for two semesters and then transitioned to online for Spring 2020, completing the degree in May that year. At that time, he also was working as a data analyst and later a data scientist in the private sector.
“Before receiving a career appointment as a GS-13, Data Scientist federal employee, I worked as a federal contractor supporting the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board and the U.S. Air Force,” Thomas explained.
But as a self-described lifelong learner, Thomas wouldn't stop at just two master's degrees. In August 2021 he enrolled in the Rawls College's PMBA program, for which he has high praise.
“The neat thing about the PMBA is it is designed for working professionals who are intrinsically motivated to learn new skills,” Thomas said. “Like me, the other students in my program were already established in their careers.
“In addition to the technical skills used to ‘number crunch,' I have used the soft skills from my management courses to resolve conflicts at work in a professional manner, identify potential problems in team environments and use intrinsic motivation to inspire my own team members. I viewed Texas Tech's academic programs as a means to ultimately benefit my skills in the workplace, and I don't view graduation from my MBA program as the end to lifelong learning.”
Thomas said that as a Texas Tech alumnus, he sincerely appreciates the educational opportunities the university provided him when he was a high school student and as a graduate of two of its master's programs.
“This also shows that Texas Tech literally has a program for everyone, from a 16-year-old to a lifelong learner going back to graduate school. My only regret is that I did not earn my bachelor's from Texas Tech,” Thomas said.
And his desire for learning keeps paying off. In his position as a data scientist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where he has been working since September 2022, Thomas recently was promoted from a GS-13 Data Scientist, roughly equivalent to a major in the Army, to a Senior Data Scientist at the GS-14 level, similar to a lieutenant colonel. The next step up would be GS-15, or a colonel.
“I found this out just two business days after my graduation from the PMBA program at Texas Tech. This university has literally done so much for my career,” he said, smiling.