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Education Desk: When Working Adults Pursue A Diploma


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The Hamilton Holt School at Rollins College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees for working adults through evening classes.

Last month, 294 graduates received their diploma.

From our Education Desk, 90.7’s Catherine Welch talked with the Holt School’s Director of Student and Faculty engagement Erik Kenyon about the challenges these students overcome while pursuing their degree.

Erik Kenyon:  The difference between teaching adults and teaching of traditional residential students is just that adults don’t have as much time so everything has to be really clean.

Catherine Welch: What challenges do nontraditional students face as they pursue their degrees at Rollins?

Kenyon: I think a lot of it comes down to logistics. So last term, for instance, Hurricane Irma came through and a lot of the residential students just popped on planes went home for a week, had this nice little vacation towards the beginning of term. Our Holt students all had to go batten down the hatches and then deal with trees in their garages, and assignments just have to come second in times like that. We got through it, assignment deadlines all kind of became suggestions, but it is what it is.

Welch: Outside of natural disasters, are there challenges with technology and schedules with people who maybe have families or full time jobs?

Kenyon: As far as I can tell hardly any of our students actually live in Winter Park. So most of them are working full time, a lot of them have families, and then there’s I-4, which has clearly been designed by Satan. Getting around is a real issue.

I also find that as a result they’re much more organized. If anything I’ve got students this summer who keep doing assignments ahead of time, and I keep having to tell them to stop that because they’re not ready to do it yet. So it’s a very different approach than the sort of 20-year-old the night before that you sometimes find.

Welch: Is there a student whose story sticks with you? We talked about challenges of a full-time job, families – and as you say work ahead sometimes. Is there a student whose story sticks with you because they showed that perseverance?

Kenyon: I have one student who was absolutely brilliant, she easily could have been teaching the class. Then towards the end of term she asked for a letter of reference because she was applying to law school. We sat down and I was helping her write her own application letter, and that’s when I found out that she’s already failed out of three other programs because she has addiction problems. Once she got here she had things together, nearly straight 4.0. We dealt with that in the letters, we were very honest about it, and now she’s in law school.

Welch: That must be so inspiring to you.

Kenyon: We don’t have a valedictorian we have an “outstanding graduating senior.”  This last year’s (senior) gave this fantastic speech about all these things that she’s been dealing with. And then at the end she said ‘but everybody here has a story like that, we are all outstanding graduating seniors.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the place just because it was so true.

(Most) of the students  have tried college once, twice, three times before, and something got in the way. They ran out of money, they had a kid, their addiction problems, they joined the army. A few of our students are actually refugees, so it’s a very broad range.

Welch:  Do you get a sense that there’s a deeper appreciation for that diploma from these nontraditional students who graduate from Rollins?

Kenyon:  I’ve noticed with the two different graduations the Holt graduation tends to be rowdy. I mean just these people cheering, and shouting, and crying, and it’s this huge life accomplishment.

While it’s difficult to generalize about Holt students, just because they are so diverse, there’s a good number of them who do have kids. (They) have decided: my job’s fine but I want to set an example for my children to show them that they can go to college. So I am going to go to college, and I’m going be the first person in my family, but I’m doing it for my kids.


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Catherine Welch

About Catherine Welch

News Director

Catherine Welch is news director at WMFE. Before moving to Florida she was news director at Rhode Island Public Radio. Previous roles as news director include WHQR in Wilmington NC and KBIA in Columbia MO. Catherine has won several regional Edward R. Murrow awards and awards from the Public Radio News Directors ... Read Full Bio »

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