Adult students finish what they started
For adults already balancing work and family, finishing a bachelor’s degree may seem like an unrealistic goal — or at least one that will have to wait until later in life.
For adult students at many of Minnesota’s Private Colleges, the dream of completing college is becoming a reality through a variety of degree completion programs. The programs cater to the busy adult student who typically comes into the program with some college credits.
There are six Minnesota private colleges that focus on such degree completion programs: Augsburg College, Bethel University, The College of St. Scholastica, Concordia University, St. Paul, Saint Mary’s University and St. Catherine University. Each of these institutions has developed features and services that make the road to a degree easier for working adults — from working with local community colleges to designing convenient evening, weekend or online schedules. View our evening, weekend or online offerings or use our online College Finder to find out more about these options.
There is increasing interest in ensuring more people who started degrees actually earn them; the Citizens League, for one, is digging into the topic.
The College of St. Scholastica: Making existing skills count
The College of St. Scholastica began catering to learners with some college experience more than 30 years ago when it realized there was an unmet need in the area of adult education. “They realized they would have to do it in another format than the traditional 16-week semester,” said Teresa Ipina, director of The College of St. Scholastica’s Rochester campus.
Currently, St. Scholastica offers adult degree completion programs at five locations in Minnesota that each offer a unique combination of programs — some undergraduate, some graduate. Undergraduate business degrees are the most popular and are offered at all five campuses. Some degrees are offered online, too.
About 700 adult learners were enrolled in St. Scholastica’s Accelerated Learning programs in spring of 2012, with slightly more than half attending full-time. Typically, adults with few or no credits can complete the program in less than three years, while adults with an associate degree or Minnesota Transfer Curriculum can take 18 months to two years to finish.
Accelerated Learning programs operate on an eight-week term, with six terms each year. This schedule moves quickly while allowing maximum flexibility — if a student has to take eight weeks off because of a child’s sports season or a work project, they can do so. “We do encourage them to stay enrolled once they start, because that way the goal stays in sight,” Ipina said. “But they set their own pace.”
St. Scholastica also tries to give adult students credit for the career or life experiences they already have. “We work with students coming in to transfer as many credits as possible. We also ask about their life experiences. We try to give them credit for that, by encouraging them to take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams and put together Prior Learning Assessment portfolios. We’ll map out a plan for them,” Ipina said.
Many services (like online tutoring and a writing center) and workshops are offered online so students can access them anytime. Certain classes and degrees are offered entirely online and tools like Google video chat are also increasingly used.
For Don Kittleson, an Organizational Behavior major who graduated in December 2009, earning a degree opened up a world of opportunities. He had worked in human resources at a manufacturing company for many years. While he encouraged the employees he hired to obtain an education to move forward, he realized he wasn’t following his own advice.
Kittleson graduated with a baccalaureate degree in less than three years while working full-time. “I just took the program step by step and it seemed to move along smoothly,” he said. “It’s all about time management and not letting things go.”
St. Catherine University: Helping student parents graduate
Joan Demeules, director of the Access and Success program at St. Catherine University, will tell you that the percentage of teen mothers who eventually complete a college degree is extremely low — only two percent do so. In the next breath, though, she will tell you the success stories of the many mothers of all ages who have graduated with help from Access and Success. “Our goal is to retain student parents and to try to ensure that they receive the same opportunities and experience as the students who don’t have children.”
At St. Kate’s, nearly a quarter of all students have children. When they enroll, they are automatically part of Access and Success. The largest proportion of those students are in the Evening, Weekend and Online programs and the majority come to St. Kate’s with some college credits. Their children are often their inspiration for completing a degree.
“Our centerpoint is building relationships with students who are parents. Going back to school usually means a reduction in income, so we offer help with rent, food and other needs. We also do a lot to help with schedules and strategizing,” Demeules said.
Many students in the program face barriers to completing a degree, Demeules said. The program allows student parents to connect with other parents, helps with daycare costs and links them to resources in the community.
Started nearly 20 years ago, Access and Success has helped Minnesota become a model for how to serve student parents, Demeules said. “Programs like this meet personal and community needs. For institutions, they work to retain students. For student parents, knowing that you have a place to go when you have a bad day or a sick kid makes a big difference.”
Michelle Jirik, a senior Elementary Education major who attends college on the weekends, enrolled at five different colleges before coming to St. Kate’s. With two young sons, the program has aided her in many ways, from connecting her with babysitters to giving her free event tickets; these efforts have allowed her to be more successful and involved in college. “All of the (Access and Success) staff are so caring and helpful that it makes going to school that much easier,” Jirik said.
Bethel University: Completing a degree together
For Pierre Guilfoile, a death in the family initially led him to leave college. Years later, he found a job in Minnesota — but that job was contingent on his finishing his degree. He decided to enroll at Bethel University because he was looking for a strong classroom experience. With a wife, a full-time job and an 11-month-old daughter, he also appreciated the set schedule of the College of Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS) at Bethel.
“The experience has been fantastic. Hopefully with a degree I can pursue a career that will be satisfying,” Guilfoile said.
Guilfoile’s story is fairly typical of CAPS students. CAPS, which began in 1989, includes students in professional, or post-baccalaureate, programs, too. About 900 of the 2,400 CAPS students are finishing an undergraduate degree and already have some work experience; their average age is 37.
“These classes are more discussion-based, not lectures. Because these are adult learners, they’re adding information and experiences to the room,” said Sue Yonker, marketing specialist at Bethel. “It’s learning in 3-D. It can be much more rich.”
CAPS is responsive to the needs of the busy adult learners it enrolls. Soon, a single advisor will help each student with everything from academic needs to student services. Bethel also offers convenient locations, including a Plymouth community center location and one in St. Paul’s Frogtown. A nursing program meets at North Hennepin Community College.
Adding to the emphasis on convenience, students are automatically registered for courses each semester. There are many online courses offered, too. “Adult learners have layers of responsibility already. This program takes all the hassle out of it. They just have to order their books,” Yonker said.
Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of CAPS, though, is the cohort model. Adult learners go through their program with the same group, usually 11 to 22 students. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and community,” Yonker said. “You have a group of students with one thing in common — they were in school before and didn’t finish. It helps them build confidence.”
Guilfoile agrees. “The cohort model has been fantastic. I believe our cohort functions so well because we get along so much. It has aided me in every way imaginable.”
Yonker said the higher education landscape is changing quickly because of the increasing number of “non-traditional” or adult students seeking degrees. “We’re not selling the experience of college; these students don’t have time for that anyway. We’re selling the education.”
By Erin Adler, communications associate