Alexis Krug has a 4.0 grade-point average as a student in the physical therapist assistant career program at Butler County Community College (BC3), pays the college’s out-of-county tuition rate and expects to graduate from the Pennsylvania college debt-free in May.
To make it more affordable, Krug stays in a 28-foot-long camper near BC3’s main campus to avoid a round-trip commute of four hours to BC3. She recently received a $500 scholarship from an academic consortium recognizing her learning commitment.
Monthly rent in the campground where she stays five days a week costs up to $425 less than that of apartments she researched, according to the 24-year-old, who said her family’s household income is not low. Krug said she owes $25,000 for student loans after earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from a regional public four-year university, where she lived in a dormitory or in an apartment.
“I honestly wish I would have thought about living in a camper when I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree,” Krug said.
The Three Rivers Academic Consortium Clinical Education Scholarship she received on January 30 “is going to help me with gasoline,” Krug said, “and with paying rent at the campground so I can stay near Butler” to complete a program-ending eight-week clinical education training this spring.
Krug is one of two physical therapist assistant students to receive the 2023 financial award from the consortium whose members are 14 colleges or universities in western Pennsylvania and in West Virginia. Students who are members of the American Physical Therapy Association and attend a college or university within the consortium are eligible to receive the financial award, said Ashlee Esplen, a professor in BC3’s physical therapist assistant program.
In addition to her commitment to learning, Krug received the scholarship based on such factors as leadership skills, professionalism and responsibility, Esplen said.
Krug works 20 hours a week at a hardware store, and is president of BC3’s physical therapist assistant club that contributed $1,500 to the college’s food pantry, $1,500 to another local food pantry and $500 toward construction of the Victor K. Phillips Nursing and Allied Health Building on BC3’s main campus.
She is also a member of Rho Phi, the college’s chapter of an international academic honor society.
“And (she) is living in a campsite near the college,” added Esplen.
Said Krug: “A lot of people, when they ask ‘Where do you live?’ and I say ‘In a camper,’ they look at me like I have 20 heads.”
A different path
It was during a 12-week internship in her final semester at the regional public four-year university that Krug decided to become a physical therapist assistant.
“After seeing what the physical therapists and assistants do, I found a love for working with the patients,” she said.
Krug researched institutions of higher education in western Pennsylvania that offered a physical therapist assistant program. She also researched apartments, and found monthly rental costs to be between $800 to $1,000 and required lease agreements of up to one year.
“Which, for me, wasn’t feasible, money-wise,” she said.
Krug, who enrolled in BC3’s program in fall 2021, said she sought a physical therapist assistant program “that was close so that I could go home on the weekends, but I also knew from the reading I had done that I would be getting the best education from BC3.”
The success rate of BC3 graduates taking the post-graduation National Physical Therapy Examination that results in licensing is 94% in the past 22 years, said Randall Kruger, director of BC3’s physical therapist assistant program.
Physical therapist assistants, under the supervision of physical therapists, help patients to regain movement and manage pain after injuries and illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median annual salary in 2021 was $49,180. The field is expected to see a 24% increase through 2031, BLS says.
Krug has completed two four-credit, five-week clinical education trainings as part of BC3’s 70-credit physical therapist assistant program. She will pursue near the college’s main campus the six-credit clinical education training that is part of the program’s requirements to graduate.
Upon graduating, Krug will move out of the camper – with its 21-inch by 17-inch four-burner stovetop, its 21-inch-wide oven and the 37-inch by 30-inch retractable table that also serves as her desk – and take the National Physical Therapy Examination.
“I’ve had everything I’ve needed – a full shower, a full kitchen, a little area for my TV and I have a couch,” Krug said. “It’s very quiet here. That makes it very easy to study.”