You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Georgia women beat hardships, earn scholarships

Bonnie Johnson left community college with an associate’s degree and on track to complete a bachelor’s degree that was not far behind.

But life rarely follows the paths we plan.

A series of events, beginning with the birth of her son born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, forced Johnson to put her education on hold. When the baby was born, “I knew I needed to work after the associate’s degree to make money,” she said. “The bachelor’s degree had to wait.”

This is graduation season for thousands of Georgia college students, and many of metro Atlanta’s high school students are receiving diplomas this week. For many, transitioning from high school to college will be seamless. But for others, like Johnson, it can be bumpy, leading them to delay college or take time off once they get there.

And the odds of finally earning those degrees are stacked against them.

About 59 percent of first-time, full-time students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared with only one-third of adult learners — students like Johnson who re-enroll in college after at least a year away, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the federal education department.

To improve the odds for a segment of adult learners, Emerge, an Atlanta nonprofit organization, has spent more than a decade awarding scholarships to women — 100 so far — whose higher education has been derailed due to hardships.

“Women tend to be the ones most often trying to give to others, but deplete themselves in the process of giving,” said Jill Ratliff, co-president of Emerge. “This is about trying to help them.”

The group selects between 10 and 15 women each year for the scholarships that average $5,000. As Emerge begins its next year of service, it is working on several new aspects of the scholarship program, including multi-year scholarships to help with costs throughout recipients’ college tenure. Recipients are required to show their commitment to education and be involved in some type of community service.

Members of the 2015 class have overcome incarcerated parents, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and family drug abuse, and are enrolled in area colleges including Clayton State University, and Atlanta Metropolitan State and Piedmont colleges.

“We’re looking for people who want to make a difference beyond their personal lives and their families,” Ratliff said.

In addition to the difficulties with her son, Johnson — one of Emerge’s 2015 recipients — has endured two bouts of cancer, an abusive spouse, a daughter who recently received a kidney transplant, divorce and the loss of her mother. Despite the obstacles, Johnson enrolled in Kennesaw State University in 2011, while working full-time as an administrative assistant, volunteering with various agencies through her company, and being the sole supporter of her two adult children.

This month, 33 years after her higher education was interrupted, Johnson, now 52, graduated from Kennesaw State with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“It was day-by-day. I couldn’t plan for the future. It took a lot of patience,” she said. “… I decided I needed to develop myself so that I could develop others. Education is the first step. It’s about making the decision that I can do this.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Education

A $2 million grant could transform how Atlanta schools teach reading
A $2 million grant could transform how Atlanta schools teach reading

Atlanta schools will spend $2 million over the next three years to improve one of the school district’s basic functions: teaching kids how to read. In a district where about half of third graders don’t read on grade level, improving reading instruction is essential, superintendent Meria Carstarphen said. Poor reading skills have far-reaching...
New DeKalb Schools students to enroll using online system
New DeKalb Schools students to enroll using online system

The DeKalb County School District is rolling out a new online registration system. Parents of students new to the district will be among the first to try it out. Registration for new students begins July 10. District officials said parents or guardians will navigate through several prompts to enter their students into the system, get accurate school...
Atlanta schools name new chief financial officer
Atlanta schools name new chief financial officer

Atlanta Public Schools executive director of finance Lisa Bracken has been named Atlanta Public Schools' new chief financial officer. Bracken replaces current chief financial officer Robert Morales, who is leaving to take the same role with Fulton County Schools. Bracken holds masters and bachelor's degrees from Georgia State University and previously...
Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy opens
Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy opens

A new state center with a mission to improve reading skills of young children by training teachers to teach them officially opened Thursday. The Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College in Milledgeville is Gov. Nathan Deal’s initiative. He allocated a total of $5.1 million for the center in the 2017 and 2018 state budgets...
Atlanta schools seek to close budget gap of up to $18 million
Atlanta schools seek to close budget gap of up to $18 million

The Atlanta school board will face tough financial decisions this summer as members seek a way to close a budget gap that could be as high as $18 million. The school district faces the gap because of Fulton County commissioners’ decision earlier this week to largely freeze property values this year. The freeze could cost Atlanta schools anywhere...
More Stories