Starting college as a freshman is difficult. There are new expectations and new living situations to become accustom too.
But returning to school can be even tougher for non-traditional students, or adult students.
“Adult students often have to step out for a semester to care for an aging parent or child or for work-related changes,” Mimi Barnard, the assistant provost, said.
Since 1998, the Adult Degree Program at Belmont has provided an opportunity to return to school for those to continue their education and has grown to average 300 undergraduate students each semester.
Recently the program has gained some recognition when it was voted as the “Best Place for Continuing Education” in the Nashville Scene’s “People & Places Reader’s Poll” in 2012.
“Our adult students enjoy attending classes with traditional students because it enriches their experience. While the middle Tennessee area has many options for adult students to finish their degrees, we hear from our students that the flexibility of class options at Belmont, Belmont’s reputation within the community and the expertise of faculty are important factors for choosing Belmont,” Barnard said.
Adult students can choose one of eight programs: accounting, general business, ministry, nursing, public relations management, social work, Nashville Ballet partnership and the-create-your-own major liberal studies.
Because the program is designed to allow those students who were a few credits shy of a degree, tuition costs are based on a per credit basis. Adult students will pay $570 per credit or $1710 for a three credit course, which is an approximately a 40 percent cut on the tuition costs of a tradition Belmont undergrad.
“Materials required for admission are the same as those for traditional students. The admission committee reviews the applicant’s experience holistically, including previous academic experience, professional experience and community involvement,” Barnard said.
Gabe Watts, a liberal studies major who balances a part-time job and a family, attends Belmont in the program.
“I have to say that one thing that caught my attention was the price reduction for returning adults. It’s hard raising a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old with just one income and trying to go back to college,” Watts said.
When Watts lost his job, he and his wife prayed until they got their answer as to what path they were going to take, a path that led them to Belmont.
Watts was able to find not only the chance to advance his education, but also a group that was willing to help him meet that goal.
“After enrolling I met a group of ladies that are a godsend. The ladies in the Adult Degree Program are there for that – adults. I love them all. Belmont is a great place to be,” Watts said.
Another student, Jeanine Oehlrich, transferred to Belmont University in order to major in social work, which was recently added to the Adult Degree Program.
“I transferred in last year and am loving my time spent at Belmont. I have had great professors and have made wonderful friends,” Oehlrich said.
With her already full schedule as a wife and mother of a 9-year-old, Oehlrich needed the flexibility in class times that Belmont offered.
“I am grateful to have made such a wise choice in choosing Belmont as it is a dream come true. Every day at Belmont is a learning experience,” Oehlrich said.
Being one of the older students in class has affected Watts and Oehlrich differently.
Watts said he enjoys helping other students while also doing learning of his own.
“I feel sometimes that traditional students look up to me for being ‘old.’ Also, it seems the professors get to a more one-on-one level with us,” Watts said.
As for Oehlrich, the age gap worried her at the beginning, but she now looks at the social work department as a home.
“It took me some time to get over being the oldest one in most classes, but with time this insecurity has diminished. The social work department has made me feel at home and not like an old lady,” Oehlrich said.
The reasons for continuing education differs between the students. Oehlrich plans to continue schooling in order to get her master’s degree, but Watts has a slightly different goal.
“My goal is to gain a liberal studies degree with the concentration of computer science and web development. This is a career move for me because it’s all about our kids. I want to be able to provide for them, as does my wife,” Watts said.