Academics

The Right Place at the Right Time

By Mitzi Bible, February 26, 2019

Adults use Liberty’s convenient, flexible online programs to accelerate their careers

“I don’t have the time; I have a family to take care of.”

“It’s too late; I missed my opportunity.”

“I’m too old to understand how to take classes online.”

It’s normal for adults to have these thoughts about going to college — or going back to college — 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years after high school. But the students in Liberty University’s online programs are finding out that it is easier than they think to fit a degree into their busy lives.

For some students, earning an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree that leads to their dream job is something they’ve desired since childhood. Others have developed new passions through experiences they’ve had later in life.

Chrisy Hatcher

For Chrisy Hatcher of Lancaster, S.C., returning to school 21 years after earning an undergraduate degree was a big decision. She was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years and had worked a few temporary jobs, but when her two daughters entered high school, she wanted to start a career where she could live out her newfound passions. She had volunteered at her daughters’ schools for many years, and after serving as a substitute teacher, Hatcher decided she wanted to work in the field full time as a school counselor.

“I really had a heart for that area, but I knew it required a master’s degree. I didn’t know about the cost and the time commitment and, being out of school for so long, if I could do it.”

So she looked into online programs. “I felt like that was the best option for me and my family. I knew Liberty’s Master of Education in School Counseling (M.Ed.) had just received CACREP accreditation (the premier accreditation for counselor education programs nationally and internationally), so I enrolled.”

Hatcher’s fears were calmed after she found the online system to be “user-friendly, straightforward, and easy to follow” and after she connected with her classmates, who were just like her.

“For me, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in college the first time, but now, coming to college later in life, when you’ve had more experience and kind of know yourself better, I think it’s a lot easier to commit to it. Because you are passionate about it, you’re going to stick with it.”

Her advice to people considering online education is to “not let fear hold you back from feeling like you can’t do it or it’s too late or you’re too old to go back. I would definitely encourage everybody that it’s not too late to start if it’s something you’re passionate about. It is definitely worth it.”

Hatcher graduated in May and, a few months later, landed a job as a school counselor at Edwards Elementary School in Chesterfield, S.C.

“Liberty’s program gave me a really good foundation, and I felt very prepared when I had to take my praxis exam for certification,” she said. “In my job, I’m seeing that Liberty is very up-to-date. I was well-prepared for the current model for how things are supposed to be done (in school counseling).”

Robin Hallmark

Robin Hallmark of Mount Washington, Ky., had a similarly rewarding experience. She returned to college at age 54 to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Liberty and graduated in 2016. Now, at age 58, she is pursuing her Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator degree and is on schedule to complete it in May.

Hallmark spent 27 years in nursing and wanted to continue in the profession by pouring into others in the field. When she became disabled, the online program was a perfect fit for her.

“It actually worked out better for me, because I could study morning, noon, or night; it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t tied down to a certain schedule.”

She said Liberty’s staff was helpful with the transition. “The program was easy to navigate, Blackboard is awesome, and the research at the library couldn’t get any easier. The tools and resources were where I could find them — and if you can’t, there’s always someone you can talk to. The advisers told me exactly what I needed to enter the program and gave me the right steps to follow. It was pretty painless.”

And, she added, her instructors have been very encouraging. “They were all very, very helpful. You could send them a note, and they would get back with you within 24 hours and answer your questions. They have all been so kind and professional. All of them know you have a life outside of your classes, and they’re willing to work with you.”

A case in point, Hallmark said, was last year, when she was by her husband’s side for several days in the hospital. When he passed away in June, she took the whole summer off from her studies. When she returned to school in the fall, she faced an eye condition that caused migraines, hindering her from using the computer for long periods.

“The dean has been so awesome, allowing me to go at my pace until I could get this all figured out,” she said.

Beyond the classwork, Hallmark found the emotional and spiritual support she needed, too.

“Given the Christian aspect of the online program, the instructors are so caring and concerned, and they want you to succeed. They don’t want to see you fail, and because of that, they’re willing to help. Even with the online atmosphere, you have a place in every class to ask for prayer from classmates, so they’re still there with you through prayer — you feel it; it’s genuine.”

Johnnie Wilson

Johnnie Wilson, 54, of Fayetteville, N.C., spent most of his career in law enforcement. What he saw made him want to help people earlier in their lives.

“I wanted to keep youth from getting incarcerated; I wanted to kind of get in the middle of that and prevent that,” he said.

With dreams of opening his own counseling office, Wilson searched for an online graduate program. He settled on Liberty’s Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy. “I wanted to get the best education I could, and when I found Liberty and knew the courses had a biblical background, that just sealed the deal for me.”

But with teenagers still living at home and a full-time job working a late shift, Wilson wasn’t sure how he could fit his studies into the mix. His family became his motivation.

“My kids saw how much it meant to me to go back to school, and they said, ‘Dad, you can do it, you can do it’ — and that’s all I needed.”

He said that once classes started and he got to know his professors, they became his cheerleaders, too.

“Studying online was awesome because the instructors made themselves available. If you had an issue with anything in class, or even if you had something personal going on, they were there ready to talk to you.”

He recalls Skyping with a professor at 3 a.m. one day.

“I had help that I greatly appreciated. I don’t think I would have had that at another university.”

Wilson graduated in May and has plans to start a private counseling service. He is currently volunteering in a mentorship program with fifth-graders.

He said he frequently talks with friends and former co-workers about his experience going back to college.

“They have all the arguments I had, that they have kids and full-time work. But I tell them it’s well worth it to go back, that you can start off slow, get yourself paced, but don’t let that opportunity go by. Without the degree, you’re not going to get the best job you want to make your life comfortable. Every piece of education that you can get is something no one can ever take away from you.”

Liberty University offers over 400 programs of study online and is ranked in the top 1 percent of online colleges and universities for academic quality, affordability, and accessibility (BestColleges.com). Visit Liberty.edu/Online.

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