Students who never completed college are returning and receiving diplomas through modified course plans
He tightened his blue tie, slipped the black gown over his shoulders, pulled the cap a little lower as though it were a baseball hat, and batted the tassel from his face. Then he lined up with his classmates–the ones he knew too intimately thanks to dorm life, the ones he had prayed with in chapel services, and the ones he had survived early morning lectures with at his soon-to-be alma mater.
But when youth development major Chris Hickox crossed the stage at the 2010 graduation and shook hands with then-President Gordon Anderson, he had a sinking feeling.
He walked across the stage at the ceremony, but he didn’t officially graduate. It would take him 10 years and a new program initiative from North Central before he would finally obtain the degree he studied for.
North Central Pathways Degree Completion Program offers returning adult students a second chance at finishing their education through reduced fees, credit for life experiences, online classes, and other flexible options to help them graduate.
Pathways, a part of the College of Graduate and Professional Education, officially launched in 2017. It was started when Renea Brathwaite, the former dean, and Vienna Lewin, the program coordinator, saw a need for helping adults who had not completed their degrees. That spring they enrolled their first two students, and since then many adults have graduated from the program. Currently, there are 14 students enrolled.
When Hickox, who is now an account manager for Apple in Cupertino, California, learned he could finish his education for about a third of what undergraduate credits normally cost, he thought it was the easiest decision of his life.
“They said, ‘All you need is a level 100 math class on personal finance,’ and that was it: three credits,” Hickox said. “I literally had to leave work a little early because I was so emotional about it. Finally, a close to the door for something that had bugged me for 10 years.”
Life Experience Counts
For John A. Taylor it would take longer. Taylor and his wife Virginia left North Central in 1992 before their final semester, due to circumstances related to extended family. While they originally planned on finishing via distance learning, things didn’t pan out as they had hoped.
Even without a degree, Taylor went on to pastor for 16 years in Michigan and worked in the non-profit sector, serving in organizations that addressed poverty and homelessness. The Taylors currently serve in Michigan with Community enCompass.
With four daughters, now all in their late 20s and 30s, Taylor decided it was time to finish what he had started. All that life experience he’d accumulated would count for credits.
“I ended with more credits than I needed,” Taylor said. “It took me two semesters to complete. It was incredibly fulfilling.”
A Common Problem
Taylor and Hickox aren’t alone, either. The National Student Clearing Research Center reports that nearly one million adults who had some level of college, but had not completed their course of study, returned to school and graduated last year. Most go back to a community college, but some are going back to their alma maters. That is, if the colleges have programs like Pathways.
According to Lewin, prospective students for the Pathways program must have more than 90 credits completed, with 50 of those being in-residence. They also need to have a GPA of 2.0 or above, and have been away from school for more than five years. Qualified students apply, and once accepted, Lewin’s team works with a committee to evaluate past credits and life-experience portfolios to determine the most expedient path to graduate.
Once approved by the Dean’s Council, the plan, classes, and cost is then sent out to the student.
Lewin is thrilled to see the program growing.
“I’m excited because we have even more options for students to be able to take classes online or to do the portfolio. That wasn’t available when we started this program–it just keeps getting more and more flexible,” said Lewin, who is also an adjunct professor.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the graduation rate for students who have completed at least one year at North Central is higher than average: 74 percent. For those that didn’t finish, the Pathways program is not the only route to a signed degree.
Where There is No Way, There is a Pathway
“Where no pathway is available, there is the option to enroll in our online Bachelor’s Degree in Church Leadership, Digital Media, Humanitarian Leadership, or Business Administration,” said admissions counselor Ellen Partridge.
For Lewin, the program has been the most rewarding aspect of her job at North Central. She said that many students weren’t aware that they had this burden, and now it’s gone.
“It honestly brings me to tears,” Lewin said. “We’ve had a couple of students walk in commencement and it’s a powerful experience to see their kids get to watch their mom walk across the stage to get her degree. I just love that we have the option for adults to come back and finish—finish what they started.”