By Tonya Jameson
Kids, work, life and foolish mistakes are just a few of the things that prevent people from attaining undergraduate degrees, or even master’s degrees. However, a steady stream of adults, such as Shawn Meachem and Kimberly Powers, are part of the consistent stream of adult learners who are taking online classes and evening courses to get the educations they need to compete in today’s job market.
Adult learners are fueled by the growth of online programs, such as Northeastern University- Charlotte, as well as traditional college settings with nontraditional hours, such as the evening MBA from Wake Forest University Charlotte Center and Johnson…Wake Forest’s Charlotte Evening MBA and Johnson C. Smith University’s Metropolitan College.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 25-and-over student population grew 43 percent from 2000 to 2009. It will increase an additional 23 percent in the next two years, the center reports.
“People are changing jobs every two to three years. Technology is changing the landscape,” said Dr. Cheryl Richards, regional dean, Northeastern University-Charlotte.
The changing landscape is also changing the students. The average age of adult learners at Northeastern University-Charlotte is 38, she said. Many of the students have a minimum of five years of work experience. Minorities and women dominate the classrooms, she said. Fifteen years ago, graduate programs were limited to students who could study full-time, which is no longer true. Most studied for an MBA.
Today, the availability of online learning and evening classes allows students to work full-time and go to school. The choice of programs has broadened significantly.
Richard said there’s great interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, even among people with undergraduate degrees in arts and social sciences. Northeastern-Charlotte launched a program in January for people with non-STEM undergraduate degrees to study STEM fields. The university will add a nursing program next year, so students can get a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
At Johnson C. Smith’s Metropolitan College, adult learners are earning their first degrees. Metropolitan does offer online courses, but it’s more like a traditional college setting. Dean Laura McLean prides herself in knowing all of her students. As at many other universities, women dominate the classroom, so McLean said the school gives extra attention to male students.
“We make sure we really wrap our hands around our men, because pride sometime gets in the way of men going back to school,” she said. “Adult learners, they’ve lived life. They’ve had different experiences than your traditional students. They’re looking for new opportunities.”
Meet four adult learners whose life experiences led them to find new opportunities by continuing their education:.
Antonio Covington had nowhere to go four years ago. A 15-year sentence for drug trafficking made finding a job with decent wages nearly impossible. He didn’t want to go back to selling drugs, but he couldn’t get a job.
“It was extremely difficult, because of a lack work experience and being a convicted felon,” Covington said. “I was really tempted to go back into hustling.”
Covington decided to hustle in the classroom instead of on the streets. As a kid, he didn’t take school seriously. He made good money while he was in high school, and he saved it. He didn’t think he needed school. After he got out of prison and had trouble finding a job, Covington knew attaining his college degree could help. He enrolled at Metropolitan College to study social work.
“I had just seen the value and importance of education,” said Covington, 42. “That was a different avenue for me to take.”
Covington is in his senior year. He plans to work with men like himself, ex-felons looking for another chance. He interns at the Center for Community Transitions Lifeworks! program.
He understands the challenge of transitioning back into society. Covington said in prison, inmates aren’t sociable and keep to themselves.
Covington spent 15 years in prsion and now works alone as a truck driver. He had to learn to interact with people.
“(Metropolitan) made it easier to make that adjustment from prison to society. They welcomed me as if Ii had a clean record,” he said. “They were supportive.”
- Our background, our past, that’s what it is. It shouldn’t define you today.
- Follow your dream. Let education be a strong resource to help further your career.
Shawn Meachem, 46, calls herself a late bloomer. She worked in banking for 15 years, before deciding to get her B.S. in sports management at Metropolitan. She graduated in May.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Meachem said. After high school, Meachem worked and tried to figure out what she wanted to do with her life: “I just didn’t know at that age what my passion was.”
Unemployment and athletic twins helped Meachem find her passion. The bank laid her off. She and her husband have groomed their twins to play professional tennis. When Meachem lost her job, she decided to get her degree to manage her children’s tennis careers.
“I needed to find something where I’m not going to be laid off,” she said.
She plans to work with parents of other child-athletes, and she has applied to graduate school at N.C. State.
- Keep pushing. Keep going. It took me five years.
- Don’t overload yourself. Do what you know you can handle.
Logan MIller, 34, wanted to be a lawyer until he shadowed lawyers. Law school wasn’t for him. He worked in real estate and then as a branding consultant.
“I was at a crossroads that I didn’t know what was out there,” he said. “I just sort of wanted to hit reset.”
He enrolled in the evening MBA program at Wake Forest University Charlotte Center, in which he took classes with students with corporate backgrounds.
“I felt like a fish out water as ana entrepreneur,” he said.
The program catered to students with corporate backgrounds. Miller learned to depend on his classmates. He helped them in some classes, and they helped him in others. The program taught him the value of collaboration.
“In undergrad, you’re an island. We’re kids,” he said. “With an MBA program, we have been in the real world for a while. People know who they are. People are lot more intentional. Because they knew who they were, they were more able to help others if they could be helpful, and they were more willing to.”
Wake’s program is called a “cohort program,” so students work with the same set of peers throughout the two-year program. The final grades are individual and team scores.
“Before, I saw partnerships as tackling a goal,” he said. “I never considered the value of working with the same people and going deeper, and substantively becoming more productive. Going through this program, I see the power of working with a team the entire time.”
Miller graduated last year. Instead of working as a branding consultant, he and a business partner created Imperative Branding.
- Don’t budget your time based on class hours. Real time spent is quadrupled.
- Graduate school helps you brush up on tools that you didn’t know you needed. The professors have worked as executives and managers. Their tools are things you can use the next day.
- Graduate school is power networking in the best way. The students are working professionals.
- Take advantage of the school’s resources. Wake Forest has dedicated market readiness coordinators to tell you what’s in the market.
Kimberly Powers, 55, was intimidated when she decided to go back to school a couple of years ago. She graduated from DePaul University more than three decades ago, and she wasn’t a particularly good student.
But, she was an adult now. She went from being a recruiter to diversity and inclusion manager at Harris Teeter.
“I felt like I needed a little bit more knowledge under my belt,” said Power.
Still, her undergrad performance haunted her. She didn’t want to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Then she heard about the masters in Leadership program at Northeastern University-Charlotte. She knew it would enhance the skills necessary for her new job. Admissions required a personal statement and letters of reference, but not a GRE score.
“When I heard (Northeastern-Charlotte) had a program in leadership, something just leapt up inside of me and I got excited,” she said. “I wanted to enhance my skills and to be relevant. The world is changing, and I felt I needed to change. I needed to be a little bit more of a critical thinker.”
Powers had to adjust to a completely online learning environment. She worked with students in other places, such as China, Washington State, Portland, the Midwest, parts of North Carolina and Georgia. Some of her peers have become lifelong friends.
“I think I learned just as much from the professor as I did from peers,” she said. “In undergrad, I just went because I was told to go. I had no choice. I was that compliant student.”
Powers learned so much that now she’s considering going back for a PhD.
- Don’t be afraid.
- Manage your time wisely.
- Have confidence so you can make choices about school.