MISSOULA — There are about 120,000 people in Montana who started college but have no degree.
Doug Bunnell was one of those people -- until recently. He has spent the year getting off drugs, and back into the classroom.
"Education's always been an understanding that it's the foundation of success going forward," Bunnell said.
Back in 1998, Bunnell was entering into his last semester at the University of Montana.
"I always dreamed of coming back and doing [it]. I just never thought my narrative would be the 45-year-old that came back to school. And I'm really proud to be that person now."
Bunnell's dad got a degree from UM, his brother got a degree from UM -- and his mom taught at UM.
"My mom passed away unexpectedly, the day we flew home from her own mother's funeral. My mother and grandmother died 14 days apart," Bunnell recalled.
Her death came two days before spring semester in 1998. Bunnell failed out of class that semester and left the university.
He says from there he spiraled and started doing drugs -- and by the time he was 30, Bunnell was addicted to meth.
"The life that I had made choices and cultivated was worse than any nightmare that I had cultivated growing up until that point," Bunnell explained.
Nine months ago he checked himself into Rimrock and now -- more than 20 years later -- he’s back at the University of Montana.
He's now taking classes for social work and addictions counseling.
"I feel healthy, I feel very motivated, I feel welcomed -- and those are a pretty good recipe for success," Bunnell said.
He’s part of a pilot program between the Department of Labor and UM, called Become an Alum.
Workforce liaison Carol Evanger says the goal is to help students like Doug get back in school.
"Doug has been such a great student to work with, and that's part of the program. One of the things that I really enjoy in my role is that I've been able to help students."
Bunnell is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2022.
The program is currently available at UM and Missoula College, but Evanger hopes to see it on every campus in the state.
Become an Alum has re-enrolled 99 people this past semester, and 35 for spring. It's available to help provide financial assistance with tuition, books, and fees.