Homeless Texas Man Returns to College to Finish Degree Over 40 Years After Dropping Out

David Carter, 67, dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin having completed 87 credits toward a Studio Art degree

David Carter UT Austin art school
Photo: Ryan Chandler

A homeless man is returning to college to finish his degree after dropping out over 40 years ago.

Almost every day for the past six years, students at the University of Texas at Austin would see David Carter panhandling near campus.

After running into Carter, 67, on numerous occasions, UT student Ryan Chandler decided to interview him for an assignment for the Daily Texan.

“I figured he would be a good person to talk to about homeless issues,” Chandler tells PEOPLE.

Chandler not only gained insight on the growing epidemic, but learned that he and Carter had a lot more in common than he thought.

Carter explained to Chandler that he was once a student at UT, studying art on a scholarship.

However, his academic career came to a halt after an accident hurt his hand. He dropped out after having completed 87 credits at 23 — he had roughly one semester left before graduation, the Alcalde and Spectrum News Austin reported.

After leaving school, Carter struggled for years, battling schizophrenia, substance abuse and homelessness.

David Carter UT Austin art school
David Carter.

Carter later revealed to Chandler that he wanted to return to school.

“When I heard his background, I was amazed so we kept in touch and became friends,” Chandler tells PEOPLE. “After I published a feature on him in December, his story gained some local attention and I got the ball rolling with the university.”

Over the past six months, Chandler helped Carter get readmitted.

“David has the intelligence and drive to get back to school. His situation just prevents him from having a reliable means of communication and the time to work through the process.”

“Having gone through the very bureaucratic UT admissions process before, I was able to simply provide the connections and communications for him, set him up with an advisor and pay small fees related to his application,” Chandler explains.

Two weeks ago, they learned Carter would once again be a Longhorn.

“David and I are both excited, but honestly, nervous at the same time,” Chandler tells PEOPLE. “David has not been a student since the ’70s, and since that time, he has gone through struggles most students never have to experience.”

“It’s going to be a very long road ahead, and this is more of the beginning than the end,” he adds.

Carter also expressed his gratitude for Chandler, telling Spectrum News Austin his admission is “the greatest blessing I’ve ever received.”

“He did what he had to be done to get me enrolled in those classes, and I couldn’t have done it without him,” Carter added.

Carter also revealed to Spectrum News Austin that he’d like to “spend the rest of my life just doing research and writing books.”

“But I think the books I write will be better because of the college education and coming in contact with the great minds,” Carter told the outlet.

Chandler explains to PEOPLE that he hopes Carter’s story sheds light on “the common preconceptions about people you see on the street” and how they “are not true.”

“That was a major thing I wanted to show the UT community,” he adds. “Some students see the homeless as dangerous, lazy or annoying, and those stereotypes are simply wrong. No one chooses to be homeless. Those who are have been victim to misfortunes outside of their control, such as mental illness, addiction or family problems.”

“Davis is just one face behind those problems,” Chandler says. “He — and everyone like him — has hopes and dreams just like every fortunate person, and they deserve to be treated like it.”

Chandler revealed on Twitter that a member of The Ex-Student’s Association of the University of Texas has “pledged to pay” Carter’s tuition.

“We did it! After 6 years of panhandling on the Drag, David Carter has been readmitted to @UTAustin and will resume his degree this week!” Chandler wrote.

Carter will begin taking his two courses, U.S. History and Black Political Thought this week.

Chandler says that since degree requirements have changed dramatically since Carter was last enrolled, “he requires at least four more semesters of school.”

“At this point, the degree is really secondary,” he says. “David wants to learn for the sake of learning and to prove to himself that he can do something meaningful with his life — and he has already done that.”

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