For these adult learners, going back to school is the best New Year’s resolution of all
New Year’s resolutions may come and go like a commuter train, but Jean Nelson isn’t worried. She’s vowed to finish college in 2019. And she will, on May 18 to be exact.
That’s the day Nelson will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Bridgeport.
“I am so determined to graduate,” says Nelson. “As long as I can breathe and move and God gives me a mind that works, I am going to get that diploma!”
She speaks with confidence, but graduation wasn’t always a certainty for Nelson, who enrolled at the University of Bridgeport in 2003. For years, she’s juggled school and two jobs while caring for family members, including nieces and nephews who live with her in Stamford, CT. Nonetheless, Nelson has never faltered; from semester to semester, she’s taken as many classes as her schedule and budget would allow.
Nelson’s determination may be remarkable, but it turns out that her desire for knowledge isn’t unique.
Learning something ranks high—number 6—among New Year’s resolutions, after eating better, getting exercise, spending less money, getting more sleep, and reading more, according to YouGov, an online polling firm.
Tim Raynor is the director of the School of Professional Studies at the University of Bridgeport, formerly known as the IDEAL program. The school is specifically geared to accommodate returning and older students like Nelson who, for various reasons, didn’t follow a traditional path to college or university but often end up making New Year’s resolutions to get their degrees, he says.
“I’ve seen it time and time again: as people get older, they realize there’s a value to investing in themselves in ways that will have a positive long-term impact on their personal and professional lives. They say, ‘It’s time. I’m going back to school,’ ” Raynor says. “Whether they enroll in one class, pursue a degree, or end up getting a professional certificate doesn’t matter. They take the step, and it quickly creates opportunities.”
The financial and professional benefits of going back
One big reason to become a student again: financial reward. College graduates with bachelor’s degrees typically earn 66 percent more than high school graduates, putting them on track to make about $1 million more over their lifetimes than workers who don’t have a postsecondary education, according the U.S. Department of Education.
Degrees also equip graduates with current and in-demand skills, thus opening more career options.
That was the case for Alexandra Martinez ’18, who was recently hired as an associate director at Novartis. The job and its “better salary,” she says, “would not have been possible if I hadn’t gone to school. In order to get that job—I have 15 people who report to me—I needed to have my degree.”
In fact, Martinez received her bachelor’s in business administration through the School of Professional Studies just a few weeks before she was offered the job at Novartis. Although she pushed to finish her last accounting class as quickly as possible, Martinez jokes that “it took forever” to get a university education.
“After high school, I got a job as an administrative assistant; my parents couldn’t afford college,” Martinez explains. Conscientious and hard-working, she went to work at several large firms before getting hired by a leading pharmaceutical company. Because she speaks Spanish and English fluently, she was assigned to work for a boss who was the head of sales in Latin America. Soon thereafter, she was promoted to the sales team. “That’s where my career really started to flourish,” says Martinez.
Nonetheless, she says that “there were still barriers to success without a college degree.”
She began taking college classes, but life continued to interrupt her education. In addition to the demands of her job, Martinez and her husband were busy raising a daughter. Then Martinez’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; Martinez and her husband invited her parents to move in with them so they could help take care of her ailing dad. When he passed away in 2006, Martinez saw it as her “moment” to return to school. She enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, taking online classes that she could structure around her work schedule. “My father would want me to finish a degree,” she says.
Martinez doesn’t regret the time or the effort she spent on college. “Education,” she says, “is power.”
Discovering inner-strength as a mature student
Jean Nelson agrees. “Society wants you to have a piece of paper saying you can do whatever it is you do. You need that paper.” Nonetheless, Nelson’s education has clearly become something bigger and more profound than a mere path to “a piece of paper.” As she tells it, when she first enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, she majored in general studies because it was “broad. It wouldn’t lock me in.”
When someone told Nelson that she could add a concentration in social sciences, something clicked. Nelson began to think more deeply about how she loves her jobs caring for children with disabilities and the elderly. She reflected upon her genuine interest in people. So she added the concentration, found greater purpose in her academic work, and began to soar academically.
A few years ago, when she had finished many classes toward her bachelor's degree but needed to complete several more, a weary Nelson returned home after a long day to find a letter from the University of Bridgeport. Because of her near-perfect grade point average, it said, she had qualified for the President’s List for top-performing students.
The letter changed everything.
“That was so beautiful, you just don’t know. When I saw that letter, I had tears in my eyes,” says Nelson. “Growing up, school was difficult for me. So to do what I did in college—that was just so wonderful. It gave me a bigger push and greater hope. When I looked at the letter, I knew that I would break through barriers. I knew I would graduate.”
To make a 2019 New Year’s resolution to education and to learn more about associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs for adult and returning students, visit the School for Professional Studies or email email@example.com.
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured, from left: University of Bridgeport School of Professional Studies Associate Director Yvose Romulus, a familiar and encouraging mentor to many SPS students, including alumna Alexandra Martinez '18, also with Susan Palmer.