WHEELING - Local higher education institutions are giving older students with careers, families or just the spark to learn something new options to go back to college.
Whether to advance their careers or finish an uncompleted bachelor's degree, older students in the area are seeking a new direction in making their way back to the classroom thanks to a variety of programs at West Liberty University and Wheeling Jesuit University that are tailored to fit an adult's needs and schedule.
"Most of our students are working full or part-time and are looking for career advancement," Thomas Michaud, dean of the School of Professional Studies at West Liberty University Highlands Center, said. "We aim to develop curricula and schedules that complement the lives of the non-traditional students so they are able to complete their degree in an accelerated way."
Luke Farmer, left, and Jessica Mercer listen to a discussion in a cross-cultural studies class at the School of Professional Studies at West Liberty University Highlands Center.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
Michaud said the WLU School of Professional Studies, which has been in place since 2009, is specifically tailored to serving non-traditional, adult students who must balance work, family life and personal interests. Through this program, a student can complete a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Administration (BLA) within about 18 months. The BLA is designed to give students course content with practical relevance to work situations and to develop a student's administrative and leadership skills for their career.
In order to yield to work responsibilities, the classes meet 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
"They develop skills in communication, finance, business and human resource law. It's very oriented for work challenges professionals have to handle on a daily basis," Michaud said.
"I would say about 75 percent of these students already have jobs and want to shift to a high level position and some of the students are between jobs and this makes them more employable."
Michaud said the average age for the BLA program is about 38 years old, but students in their 50s and late 20s have graduated from the program. This past December, the school graduated a student who was 81.
"It was something she wanted to do for her children and grandchildren," he said.
The School of Professional Studies also offers a Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA Today) for students who don't have many credits to finish to graduate and can take one or two classes a semester in the evenings and on Saturdays.
At Wheeling Jesuit University, Becky Forney, director of professional and graduate studies, said the university offers both undergraduate professional degrees and graduate degrees for older adults looking to come back to school.
"These are very non-traditional students. They might have aging parents, young children, a job, a social life, it's a lot to juggle, so we try to help them with the things we can help them with. I like to tell them I can help them with everything but their homework."
Wheeling Jesuit's BOLD program - Bachelor's of Arts Degree Completion Program in Organizational Leadership - is one of the most popular programs and assists students who have earned college credit, but for whatever reason never finished their bachelor's degree. Students in the program have the ability to complete their bachelor's degree in a 15-month period by taking classes that meet once a week. Along the way, they learn the leadership skills needed in their professional lives.
"Often, employers won't promote someone unless they have a bachelor's degree," Forney said. "Sometimes they have a lot of experience, but no degree, but this gives them the chance to learn something about leadership in their field and use their experience and college credit to get a degree in a relatively short amount of time."
She said the second degree nursing program or BA/BS to BSN Accelerated Program is by far the most popular program for continuing education. Though it's a full-time program, students who have already earned a four-year degree, but now want to be a nurse, can complete the program in 18 months and enter the workforce as a nurse.
"Nursing is one of those degree programs - individuals know they'll have a tremendous opportunity for employment either locally or anywhere in the country," Forney said.
Wheeling Jesuit also offers students with a bachelor's degree the opportunity to become a teacher in their field through the Accelerated Certification for Teaching Program, or ACT. ACT students can become a teacher for grades kindergarten through 12th grade. Teachers can also enroll in the Masters for Educational Leadership to advance in their teaching career.
"We've been offering programs for over two decades for adult learners," Forney said. "It's a different experience, because these students are more mature and they are paying for it themselves and they understand the value of an education. We try to work with them every step of the way."