Jeff Coggins found such a love connection with California that he left University of Wisconsin-Stout to move to the Golden State in 1984.
He appeared on the television show “Love Connection,” with Chuck Woolery, going on a date but not finding true love in the mid-1980s. “I’ll never forget when the show aired in Wisconsin, my popularity blew up in Eau Claire,” Coggins said.
Coggins, 55, earned his bachelor’s degree in management, with a concentration in business management and a minor in business administration, Saturday, May 5, from UW-Stout 34 years after he quit classes at the university.
He returned to Menomonie to walk across the commencement stage and pick up his diploma at Johnson Fieldhouse.
Coggins worked in the printing industry in Southern California for more than three decades before being laid off from 2008 to 2010. It was then that Coggins determined he wanted to finish his college degree.
“My ‘aha’ moment came when I got passed up for a job because I didn’t have a degree, even though I had 30-plus years of experience,” Coggins said. “It was always in the back of my mind when that happened that I would show them. It really was a personal goal.”
He eventually was able to get a job as a plant manager for a printing company but still wanted to return to college to earn his degree. After looking at colleges, he realized nearly all the credits he had earned at UW-Stout would still be accepted toward a degree if he enrolled online.
Coggins started taking classes again in the fall of 2014. One hurdle he had to overcome was being placed on academic probation after not officially withdrawing from classes in 1984.
“One of the first classes I took was statistics,” Coggins said. “I almost quit. One of the reasons I never went back to school is I never thought I could do the math. After passing the statistics course, I figured I could do anything academically. I basically started going to school full time and working full time. With the online classes, I could take a class whenever I had the time. I just had to meet the deadlines. That’s the beauty of the program. It gives you that freedom.
“My studies in every single class would click for me in the real world and be usable,” said the Eau Claire Memorial High School graduate, who has returned to the Chippewa Valley for many of his high school reunions.
When he first attended UW-Stout, he majored in industrial technology.
Coggins credited his UW-Stout counselor Mandy Wolbert with encouraging him to continue classes and graduate, as well as Craig Yolitz, a friend from high school, and his longtime girlfriend, Nicole Simpson.
Yolitz, vice president-operations at FindLaw, which finds integrated marketing solutions for small law firms, is a 1985 UW-Stout graduate in industrial technology. He has known Coggins for about 45 years.
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment and shows determination and dedication to improving yourself,” Yolitz said of Coggins graduating from UW-Stout. “I encouraged him by saying that the four-year degree simply opens more doors and career opportunities and would give him a broader point of view on business overall. What I tell people about any education is that education is the one thing in life nobody can take from you.”
Now that Coggins has an undergraduate degree, he wants to earn his Master of Business Administration degree. In March, he accepted a job as manager of Reprographics and Signs at California State University, Northridge, which offers tuition waivers for employees.
“I want to be in a classroom now,” Coggins said. “I want to sit there and ask questions and interact with other students.”
Coggins said he also wanted to graduate from college for his mother’s sake. Joanne Yates, who died in 2000, attended UW-Stout for a year but ended up dropping out when she became pregnant with Coggins.
“I’m finishing for her too,” he said. “I am the first one from my family to finish college. When I found out she dropped out of college because of me, I felt it was meant to be.”
UW-Stout is a leader in the UW System with online program offerings. Learn more at Stout Online, www.uwstout.edu/academics/stout-online.
Jeff Coggins, an Eau Claire native, at right, with high school friend, Craig Yolitz, who encouraged Coggins to continue his college education after 34 years. Coggins now wants to earn an MBA. Submitted photo