Carlos Escuza ’23 describes Flex as an ‘awakening experience’
Call it a 40-year college plan. And when Carlos Escuza graduates in December with a B.A. in Business Administration, he will finally finish what he started decades ago when he was an undergraduate student at University of Phoenix in Riverside, Calif.
Like then, Escuza doesn’t represent the typical college student. He was in his 30s when he started, and he is now in his 60s as he completes his degree. As the nation’s baby boomers age, their influence continues to reshape the economy, the labor force, infrastructure and institutions. Some have called the demographic shift a “silver tsunami.” And that shift is apparent in higher education as a new wave of older students—like Escuza—return to college in pursuit of new opportunities.
“I stopped going to the University of Phoenix in 1992 because I got promoted as National Account Manager with the United States Postal Service,” Escuza says. “And I also had U.S. Army obligations.”
Since walking in a U.S. Army recruiting office in Chicago in 1979, Escuza has been all that he can be, a riff on an old Army slogan that prompted the then-20-year-old military veteran to enlist in the first place.
“The military gave me structure in my life,” says the native Peruvian. “Just like Chaminade University has taught me discipline in my pursuit of my bachelor’s since I started in January 2021.”
A new report by Lightcast, a leading company that provides labor market data, found that going back to college is an especially sound investment for adult learners. An analysis of more than 125 million online career profiles found that this group was 22 percent more likely to achieve upward mobility and earned annual salaries 140 percent greater than peers who didn’t return to college.
“When I retired from the Army on the deck of the Mighty Mo back in October 2019, I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do,” Escuza admits. “That’s when I turned to Cassandra Kam, a former educational counselor with the Veterans Affair. She was the one who told me about Chaminade University.”
Born in Chicago but raised in Lima, Peru, after his parents decided to move back to their native homeland when he was a 1-year-old baby, Escuza immediately returned to Chicago after graduating from high school. His formative years spent in the South American nation meant growing up with an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, and embracing a Hispanic culture.
“When I first moved back to Chicago, I was living at the Y, which is all I could afford,” Escuza recalls. “I received a grant and wanted to go to school, but I later decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.”
Escuza has no regrets enlisting in the Army and making it a career. He has been deployed to Europe, Afghanistan and Iraq, joining the ranks of thousands who were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). In Iraq, he was part of the Multi-National Security Transition Command’s convoy security team known as the Rough Riders. Contrary to the sound of its name, the Rough Riders participated in goodwill missions to provide school supplies, gifts, candy and toys to Iraqi children in Baghdad.
“I was already in my 40s, but I was told I was needed because of my maturity and experience,” Escuza says. “Being involved in a war changed me profoundly in so many ways.”
When he returned from Iraq in 2008, Escuza manifested his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “When I went through Kuwait, on a post-deployment, I saw outside the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) compound, this long wall with the names of soldiers who had died in the line of duty,” Escuza recounts. “They were listed in alphabetical order, and when I saw my friend’s name on it, I broke down and cried uncontrollably.”
Today, Escuza enjoys the support of his wife, Pam, his son Jacob and daughter Jaclyn Mills. He also appreciates the encouragement and understanding of Chaminade staff and faculty, whom he describes as inspirational. After he graduates, he says he plans to enroll in the M.S. in Counseling Psychology (MSCP) at Chaminade.
“This has been an awakening experience,” Escuza says. “If I were to put down in words all the positive feelings that I have collected and digested during my time at Chaminade, I would be writing an essay. The Flex program has truly met my spiritual and intellectual goals, and I’m grateful for this experience.”