Abner Gutierrez-Herrera always knew he would return to school to better his future, and some good timing helped him do just that.

After graduating from high school in 2006, Abner immediately started looking for work. He spent the next five years working in pyrotechnics, setting up firework shows, and as a freelance videographer – anything he could find to help support his family in a difficult economy. Then, when he was ready to start earning college credit, he enrolled at Joliet Junior College, the community college closet to his home at the time. When he moved to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, he decided Daley College would be the best fit for him and continued on his college journey.

Abner found Daley to be a welcoming space and threw himself into creating that same sense of community and resources for other DACA students. Still, he had to work to support himself, and, while Daley was affordable, it was difficult to juggle his competing priorities. He took some time off from taking classes so he could save money, working first in ridesharing and then landing a job in a factory. All in all, he pushed pause on his college education for three years.

When he had saved up the debt he owed City Colleges so he could register for classes, Abner heard the good news – City Colleges was just about to announce the Fresh Start debt forgiveness program. The opportunity would allow him to put the money he saved towards tuition for the seven classes he needed to earn his degree from Harold Washington College.

In the spring of 2021, Abner earned his associate degree in general studies and is now on his way to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in urban studies. A community activist in addition to a student, Abner wants to focus on research so that he can use data to drive policy and continue to advocate for his community.

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