State program plans to bring adults back to the classroom

Glen Sutton
Glen Sutton restarted school in fall 2011 and plans to graduate in May 2015. | Photo Provided by Glen Sutton

Glen Sutton, 47, returned to school in 2011 in order to better prepare for a career involving his three interests: art, filmmaking and social work.

In Georgia 1.2 million adults have some college credit and an unfinished degree, according to Rosalind Fowler, Public Awareness & Outreach Director of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG).

“We have found that many adult students, who are interested in returning to school, may not know where to begin or who to speak to about the beginning the re-admission process. Many adult students are balancing work, family and along with the interest to pursue and complete a college degree,” Fowler said.

State officials announced ‘Go Back. Move Ahead’, a campaign designed to encouraged to help nontraditional students return to college and achieve graduation, on July 29, according to a news release by the USG.

Campaign logo

“The initiative hopes to help those adults regardless of age or circumstance gain personal assistance in re-enrolling in either the program they started or consider a different program that they may have interest in based on their current career path,” Fowler said.

Georgia hopes to put nearly 300,000 of these students back in college classrooms over the next several years, according to Fowler.

“Many Georgians choose not to return to college because they believe it is too difficult, too expensive or simply inconvenient,” Gov. Deal said in the USG news release. “I have challenged our University System to make it easier for these Georgians to go back, and I’m pleased with the response. Regardless of individuals’ personal or financial situations, we are committed to making it possible to go back, move ahead and make college work.”

The program is part of the state goal to produce 250,000 graduates in the upcoming years. By 2020, an estimate 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree, according to the USG website.

The Reality at Georgia State

In Georgia less than 60 percent of full-time college students attending college for the first time graduate in six years, according to an article published in 2010 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The graduation rate for these students at Georgia State was 57.6 percent in the period from fall 2003 to summer 2009, USG data states.

“The ‘Go Back. Move Ahead.’ initiative is the state’s effort to address some of the issues related to those students who have dropped out or stopped out and how we might also assist them in returning to complete the degrees they started in the past,” Fowler said.

For Sutton the advantages and incentives the new program is offering would probably have made no difference in his enrollment process in 2011.

“I already knew what to do to apply and what I wanted to do and achieve. However, if they offered more scholarship or grant opportunities for returning and older students, that would have been cool,” he said.

However, Sutton also said after nearly 25 years in his career field it became increasingly competitive and hard to re-enter the work force after he was laid-off in 2010.

“… If I was not screened out because of the lack of a degree, I was being told I was ‘overqualified,’ that they couldn’t afford to match my previous salary (even if I was willing to take a pay cut) and so on,” he said. “I put in 500 applications in over an 18 month period (that’s nearly an application a day for a year and a half) and only had two interviews, and both said I was more than qualified but that they couldn’t afford me.”

Michael George, 48, a recent Georgia State graduate in political science, said coming back to school is the only option.

Michael George
George graduated this summer and hopes to go on to graduate school | Photo credit: Fernando Mattos

“Now everything is competitive. You can’t just settle down with your first degree. To get your dream job, to get something that’s meaningful to you, you have to go back,’’ George said.

George thinks about graduate school but said he would like more information on scholarships. He is a father of three children and noted the difficulty of balancing work, family and school.

Fowler said the state is working to make education affordable and help all students overcome the barriers standing between them and a degree.

“Being able to offer affordable and quality higher education options to adult learners across Georgia acknowledges the importance education plays in the economic viability of the state,” she said. “Both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia are committed to helping all students achieve the degree being pursued and will continue to address those areas the impede student progress toward degree completion.”

Some students still question if the job market will accept them, according to 56 year-old construction major Kenneth Ancrum. He also said its difficult to compete for jobs at his age without a degree.

“Every time I filled out an application, people wouldn’t hire me,” Ancrum said.

Ancrum receives financial support from Veterans Affairs and plans to start his own company after graduation.

However for Damien Johnson, the same kind of support was cut due to his religion.

While challenges for those returning to school still exist Fowler said she has hope for better graduation numbers and more successful stories in the future.

“We recognize that this goal will require a number of initiatives and efforts on our part to help adult learners re-enroll and succeed. We are committed to assisting these students while maintaining our commitment to helping the students who are currently enrolled complete their degrees, as well,” she said.