ASU undergraduate student credits innovative program with turning his life around after illness
James Galica was in third grade when he decided that school was not for him. It was 1999, and his older brother, Galica’s self-described “idol,” had just dropped out of high school.
“I went from a kid excited to go to school to a nuisance who could not wait for school to be over every day,” Galica says.
One day, in high school, he found himself without much of a choice. What started as a case of pneumonia during Galica's junior year ended up with Galica being hospitalized for a significant portion of his senior year. His health issues inspired a change of heart.
“I realized because of my health that I did not want to end up like my brother. I wanted a chance to prove myself.”
Balancing health and education
Although he managed to graduate high school, the next several years would be a whirlwind for Galica. His health continued to deteriorate, and he found out he would need to have heart surgery, twice.
After completing rehab from his second heart surgery in 2020, Galica applied to Arizona State University. He was crushed to discover he was denied admission, not only to ASU but to all of the universities and community colleges he had applied to.
ASU, however, offered James an alternate pathway to college: a spot in the Earned Admissions program.
‘Earned Admissions’ enables a fresh start
The Earned Admissions program at ASU gives prospective students like Galica the opportunity to enroll in first-year ASU college courses, all online. Students only pay if they pass the course, and class fees are deeply discounted. If students complete all required Universal Learner Courses with a GPA of 2.75 or higher, they become eligible for admission to ASU. Credits can also be used toward other universities if students wish.
This unique program allows potential students to “test the waters” of college.
For Galica, the transition into college-level work via the Universal Learner Courses challenged him, but ultimately proved transformational.
“Not every class is going to be easy,” James says. “If it’s hard, that’s OK. Don’t think that you aren’t meant for college. I promise, that first term where you haven’t done school in so long — there’s so much, but it will get so much easier.”
Galica ended up passing the program with flying colors. He attributes his success to the patience of his ASU professors, who were always willing to meet with him and reexplain a concept when he felt stuck. Most of all, Galica says he was inspired to persevere through the program by the example of his mother, a paralegal whose work ethic always impressed him.
Taking classes online also helped Galica develop his own work ethic and discipline.
“Yes, the TV’s there. Yes, my phone’s there,” he says. “But I need to block those things out and do everything I can to get my work done.”
The online modality was also critical in allowing Galica to continue his schooling during the pandemic, as his health status precluded him from attending classes in person.
Now a junior at ASU, Galica says he would “never in a million years” be in this position without the Earned Admissions program.
Intentional design for accessibility and opportunity
“The Earned Admissions program has been a vital bridge to get people like James into college,” says Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of ASU’s Learning Enterprise — the arm of ASU that focuses on creating learning opportunities at every stage of life. “James’ story is so important because it shows us that we need to create a multitude of options and on-ramps to higher education — it cannot be a one-size-fits-all design. Everyone at the ASU Learning Enterprise is so proud of what he has accomplished.”
The technology-forward, affordable and accessible nature of the Earned Admissions program epitomizes the mission of ASU’s Learning Enterprise, which serves as one of three core functions of the ASU Enterprise, along with Academic Enterprise and Knowledge Enterprise.
Learning Enterprise was born from the understanding that the traditional college experience and admissions process excludes many promising students, such as parents juggling family life, adults over 65 and those like Galica, who require an online schooling option.
In creating flexible, innovative learning opportunities such as the Earned Admissions program, Learning Enterprise makes ASU’s extensive assets in research, teaching and technology available to the wider community.
Paying it forward
After Galica’s acceptance into ASU, he decided to major in history. He credits finding the right major — and discussing class selections with his advisory team — with keeping him engaged.
Jeffrey Cohen, ASU’s dean of humanities in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recognizes Galica as a powerful exemplar of the Earned Admissions program.
“Every student deserves to find a path to success,” Cohen says. “No one should be held back by their own past; everyone should have a chance to learn from what life has thrown their way, and be given every tool to triumph. Earned Admissions is a model for what a truly inclusive education should be. We’re proud to have James in our humanities community.”
With three years’ worth of credits under his belt and a desire to pursue a career in law, Galica is now applying lessons learned in his role as a teaching assistant for the online Earned Admissions program.
“If a student turns in something that’s a little rushed, maybe their kid had soccer practice and they had to put off the paper. The role I take as a TA is to help everyone improve their time in the class and, ultimately, their time at ASU,” Galica says.
For those considering the Earned Admissions program, Galica advises keeping an open mind.
“Don’t let your past define you,” he says. “I was not a great student in high school. Now, I love school. You can redefine yourself.”
Written by Annie Costakis and Samantha Becker