A Texas man who has spent nearly four decades homeless has been readmitted to the University of Texas at Austin nearly 49 years after first enrolling at the school, thanks in part to a current student who stepped in to help him through the application process.
David Carter, 67, of Austin, Texas, left the school’s studio art program in 1975 after struggling for several years with mental health issues, including schizophrenia and substance abuse. He impaired his ability to draw after injuring his hand in an incident involving alcohol.
But now he’s getting a second chance at finishing his degree, only this time he’ll be studying literature.
“I like to talk to people that are smarter than me,” Carter said. “I want to learn how to learn. I’m not a good listener, but I want to learn to listen and listen to learn.”
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After dropping out of UT Austin, Carter spent the next couple of decades hitchhiking around the country, returning to Austin in 1995 to help his ailing parents. He spent much of this time homeless, until landing subsidized housing six years ago through the non-profit Caritas of Austin.
UT Austin student Ryan Chandler met Carter on “The Drag,” a thoroughfare near the campus, where Carter often panhandles to earn money to cover his housing costs.
The 20-year-old government and journalism major found out Carter had been trying to re-enroll in the school after deciding to profile him for the student paper, The Daily Texan.
“I couldn’t believe his experience and his connection to UT,” Chandler said when he found out that Carter had attended UT Austin during the 1970s.
Carter told NBC News that he tried to reenroll to UT Austin a few semesters ago, but ran into roadblocks because he didn't have regular access to a computer and couldn’t afford to pay the application fee.
Chandler said that he got in touch with the president’s office, who put him in touch with the main admissions office, who then put him in touch with the admissions office for the College of Fine Arts. Chandler met with Carter multiple times to complete the application and even covered his application fee.
After about six months of back and forth with the school, Carter was readmitted to UT Austin’s College of Fine Arts.
In a statement to NBC News, UT Austin College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster praised Carter for his commitment to continuing his degree.
“We welcome him back as we do many students each year whose education took a less direct path," Demptser says. "We admire his courage and persistence. We’re going to give him every assistance to help him through his remaining course work. We’re grateful for the generosity of fellow Longhorns who are stepping up to support Mr. Carter."
Carter will be taking two classes in June during the summer semester, before taking on a full workload starting in the fall. He's looking forward to giving it his all.
“I’ve got $90 and I’m going to invest it back into going to school,” Carter told NBC News.
Carter said he has aspirations to write multiple books and is particularly interested in African Studies and the Civil Rights Movement. As a newly readmitted student, Carter is excited to have access to the library, which will allow him to work on his books more regularly.
“[David’s] got a long road ahead. His goal was to prove he could be a student again and he’s done just that,” Chandler said.
Ali Gostanian is a New York-based reporter with NBC News' Social Newsgathering team.