Carla Santos always knew she wanted to pursue higher education. This year, that dream came true.

Santos completed her Master’s of Business Administration over the summer. The degree represents the finish line in a five-year pathway, known as the 2+1+2 Program, offered by University of New Mexico in partnership with Central New Mexico Community College, but for Santos the achievement has been more than twenty years in the making.

“It definitely takes discipline and you have to keep the end goal in mind,” Santos said of completing her program. “You also have to be patient and understanding with yourself that it’s all going to take time.”

Santos put her college plans on hold after she became a teenage mother and later a single parent to her three daughters. Still, she planned to get her degree when the timing was right. 

About ten years ago, she enrolled in classes at a community college, but managing coursework and life as a single parent without a support system felt nearly impossible for her at the time, so Santos made the difficult decision to put her education on pause.

In 2019, she found the 2+1+2 Program, designed to help students earn an associate’s degree from CNM and a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UNM in five years. The timing finally seemed right for Santos, who now had two daughters in college, Bianca Lucero and Celeste Lucero, and a partner who encouraged her to pursue the program. It was challenging to re-enter the classroom after so many years away, she said, but Santos is quick to encourage anyone considering going back to school.

“It’s okay to feel like you don’t belong because most students don’t look like you, but you can do it,” she said. “There is a place for you.”

After quickly completing her associate’s degree, she started at UNM in 2020 and took online classes that allowed her to stay on track throughout the pandemic. All the while, she encouraged her daughters as they studied for their own degrees and her youngest daughter, Emily Lucero, made plans to attend college.

Bianca Lucero
Bianca Lucero graduated in Spring 2022 with a bachelor's degree in biology and will graduate in Fall 2022 with a bachelor's degree in English.


Each of the women in the family was so focused on attaining their own goals it came as a bit of a surprise when, while shopping at the UNM bookstore, it finally set in they would graduate together. Her daughters Bianca and Celeste will soon don caps and gowns for earning their bachelor’s degrees and both have plans to pursue advanced degrees.

Celeste Lucero
Celeste Lucero will graduate in Fall 2022 with a dual degree in Business Administration and Psychology.

“It's been really fulfilling for all of us to be able to lean on each other, ask questions and be each other's support system,” Santos said.

With her two oldest daughters applying to graduate school and her youngest daughter now in her first year at UNM studying astrophysics and biology, Santos, who once got school advice from her daughters, is excited to see the tables turn.

“I feel like I’m in a place where I’ll be able to offer them some guidance and support as to what that’s going to look like for them,” she said of helping her daughters continue with higher education.

Santos also has some plans of her own. While studying at UNM, she discovered her affinity for project management. It was exciting to find a field that struck a balance between interest, education and natural talent, she said. With degrees in hand, she’s eager to see what her future holds.

“There’s no deadline,” Santos said. “Now that I’m at this point in my life and I’ve accomplished this I can see that, even though I’m now older, I still have so many years ahead. It’s never too late.”

Santos completed her M.B.A. over the summer and walked in the Spring 2022 graduation ceremony.