Taking credit: For UW-Green Bay adult and distance learners, options abound

top-story-adpAs soon as Jennifer Randall finished her associate degree, she knew she wanted more.

Randall, 33, had delayed going back to school while her children were young, working as a Certified Nursing Assistant to support them in the hopes she’d someday return to the classroom. When the time came, Randall earned a paralegal degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College — then set her sights on her bachelor’s.

“I contacted UWGB’s Adult Degree Program and was amazed at how helpful the staff was and how easy the transition was from NWTC to UWGB,” Randall said. “A total of 60 credits earned at NWTC transferred to UWGB and that put me at junior status when I started. It was a wonderful feeling to know that in just two years I would have a bachelor’s degree.”

More wonderful, still, was Saturday, Dec. 14, when Randall crossed the Weidner Center commencement stage as one of UW-Green Bay’s newest alumni. The transfer program that helped her finish so quickly is one of numerous options officials say can expedite the time — and mitigate the cost — associated with obtaining one’s degree. And yet many prospective students remain unaware that such opportunities exist.

“There is a great deal of buzz in the media recently about ‘new’ options for completing a bachelor’s degree in ways that involve online options and Credit for Prior Learning,” said Steve VandenAvond, UW-Green Bay Associate Provost for Outreach and Adult Access. “UW-Green Bay has been offering these and other similar options for adult and distance learners for more than 10 years.”

Degrees that transfer; learning that works

The Bachelor of Applied Studies (BAS) degree, which Randall completed, allows students to complete their bachelor’s degree entirely online, with face-to-face options available in the evenings, during the day or on weekends. In addition, full-time UW-Green Bay recruiters and academic advisers are located in Appleton, Wausau, Milwaukee and Waukesha to better serve students. The BAS degree allows students to transfer a minimum of 60 credits from an associate degree education to UW-Green Bay, and, like any other UW-Green Bay junior, leaves them with only 60 credits to complete. So technical college transfer students can use the BAS program to finish quickly, and with less cost.

“The Bachelor of Applied Studies degree is a practical, no-nonsense approach to earning a bachelor’s degree that respects the valuable applied learning taking place in Wisconsin’s technical colleges,” VandenAvond said, “and provides graduates with the critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills that employers are requiring.”

BAS degree holders complete a major in Interdisciplinary Studies, which is UW-Green Bay’s second most popular major. In 2012-13, 149 students graduated with an Interdisciplinary Studies degree, ahead of Psychology (140 grads), Human Biology (128) and Human Development (122), according to the UW-Green Bay Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. For the past two academic years, only Business Administration has had more graduates.

photo-in-story-adpFor December 2013 grads Cassie Dufek and Melanie Lovato, the Interdisciplinary Studies major was a perfect fit.

“It was very flexible, and the Adult Degree Program staff worked with us so well,” Dufek said of herself and Lovato, who became friends during technical college. “We both had a full-time job and with family and jobs — we just couldn’t pass it up. …I’ve become a more well-rounded person. The learning was just unbelievable.”

Initially hesitant about returning to school, Lovato said she’s thrilled with what she’s accomplished — and how it will help her in her career.

“The learning was practical,” Lovato said. “It was, for me, very commonsense courses — it’s stuff that I can use with my career and throughout my life. Whereas with some of the other programs (I considered), it just didn’t interest me as much because it didn’t have that commonsense, practicality of putting it in your everyday life.”

Credit where credit is due

UW-Green Bay’s options for online learning also appealed to current student Joy Hart, who found another way to expedite her time to degree — the University’s Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) offerings. From competency exams to military training, a portfolio option and retroactive credit, students like Hart are finding what they know can help them get to where they want to be.

“I was saying, ‘how can I finish as quickly as possible?’ ” said Hart, 36. “I found the CPL program and it was an advantage to me because I didn’t have to take another class.”

Hart parlayed her municipal clerk certificate into credits for prior learning by writing a paper detailing how she uses it in her current job as a city clerk. She had put her bachelor’s degree on hold to pursue the certificate, and was finally ready to go back to school about two years ago. With experiences like an internship having added to the experience of pursuing her degree, Hart is excited to graduate in May — though she jokingly admits she’s not sure how she’ll fill her time without classes and homework.

“Credit for Prior Learning is an invaluable option for adult learners and others,” VandenAvond said. “Credit is awarded not just for experience, but for demonstrated learning — students must clearly show what they learned, not just what they did. Numerous options exist, and staff members are willing and eager to help students discover if CPL will work for them.” Additional information about Credit for Prior Learning is available online.

For students like Randall and Hart, options for adult and distance learners have made all the difference. They’re finishing more quickly, with less cost — but with every bit of satisfaction for what they’ve achieved.

“UW-Green Bay accepted 60 credits from my associate degree,” Hart said. “They also transferred in 24 credits of additional coursework from other schools I attended, and for that I am grateful. …It’s helped me reach my goal of obtaining my bachelor’s degree. I’ve got my eye on the prize.”

More information about UW-Green Bay’s Adult Degree Program is available online and on Facebook .