HIGHLAND HEIGHTS -- Northern Kentucky University is one of the fastest-growing universities in the state with more than 15,000 students enrolled, but it hasn’t lost its claim to fame as a home for non-traditional students.
The school’s efforts to support adult learners have earned it recognition among the best in the nation by Washington Monthly, which included NKU in its list of top colleges in the U.S. for adult learners.
NKU received high marks from the magazine for the flexibility of its programs, the ease of transfer from other institutions and the services provided to adult students.
The award celebrates more than a decade of work to help potential students who may have hit a stumbling block in their previous educational pursuits.
NKU has set out to develop a program to provide customized, hands-on programs and services to adult learners. The Program for Adult-Centered Education (PACE), an accelerated program for working adults was created in 2005. The program gives non-traditional (age 25 and older) students an opportunity to have face-to-face interaction in the classroom with a blend of online resources that better allow for juggling school with the responsibilities of family and work.
While a desire for self-improvement led Felicia Dooley, 29, of Hebron to consider going back to college, it was the flexibility of the PACE program that made her decide on NKU.
Dooley, who graduated earlier this year, said her daughter was her inspiration to finish school.
“Like any mother, I want the absolute best for my daughter, and I knew it had to start with me," Dooley said. "My daughter looks up to me; I am her role model. My daughter is the reason I made the commitment to return to college. I simply could not have finished my degree if I had to take off work to attend classes during the day.
“NKU's PACE Program helped me finish by offering evening classes two nights a week. I made the commitment to PACE because it gave me the flexibility I needed to raise a family and work full time while achieving my degree.”
She had previously earned an associate’s degree from Maysville Community and Technical College in health information technology, and she was able to transfer enough credits to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in 18 months, despite working full time and taking care of her young daughter and husband.
The degree, and the confidence she gained through PACE, helped her land a new job with the University of Cincinnati Foundation just one week after graduation.
Dooley is one of many success stories that PACE Director Debbie Poweleit is happy to share.
Since its inception, the PACE program has helped more than 500 adult students obtain undergraduate degrees. According to the data from the 2015-16 school year, 23 percent of the undergraduate students are non-traditional.
The rate jumps to 30 percent when the full student population, including undergraduate, graduate and law students, is considered.
“Our program is designed with the student in mind," Poweleit said. "We offer flexible course options as well as hands-on academic planning, enrollment and scheduling help. At NKU, age is not an obstacle to academic success.”
In addition to PACE, NKU also offers Project Graduate, a statewide initiative to help adult learners who have already accumulated 80 credit hours return to college to finish their degrees. It also offers a Veterans Resource Station for students with prior military service.
Other services for adult learners include credit for prior learning, online courses, graduate programs and academic offerings through its Grant County Center in Williamstown.
As a military veteran and a non-traditional student, Jonathan Briggs, 31, of Independence, utilizes the Veterans Resource Station for assistance with his GI Bill and the PACE program, where he is studying business administration.
Having attended four colleges before NKU, he knew that he needed to find an engaging program in order to be successful. He has found that at NKU, despite his non-traditional status, he feels like a true Norse.
Briggs, who is expecting to graduate by summer, said he chose to attend NKU because of the PACE program.
“Being a full-time employee and a soon-to-be father, I knew that I would be unable to live the traditional student life again," Briggs said. "NKU, through the PACE program, has given me everything that I need to be as successful as I want. Once I had found the PACE program, I had no reason to search for an adult-learner program elsewhere.”
NKU offers 10 undergraduate and seven graduate online programs, in addition to numerous online certificates. PACE offers five undergraduate degrees and two associate degrees.
“I believe our personalized approach to creating an individualized roadmap to graduation for each student sets our program apart from other programs out there," Poweleit said. "I am passionate about working with adult learners, assisting them to leverage their prior coursework with short- and long-term career goals."
The Council for Adult and Experimental Learning (CAEL) will also recognize NKU at its annual conference in Chicago this fall for being a leader in providing opportunities to adult learners.