You know the scene – friends sitting around talking about their college years – all the parties, socials, and theme weeks. No matter the age, college memories seem to be as fresh as if they just happened last week. When your turn comes around to contribute to the conversation, you may talk about the hard professor or the class that tripped you up the most. You really don’t go any further and if you’re honest, deep down you are hoping the conversation slips by you quickly so you don’t have to discuss your college or those years that it took to get you where you are now. As proud as you are to have worked hard and completed your degree, there is a sense of inferiority, a sense of being less than, a sense of not quite good enough – all because your degree was obtained on-line.
Most colleges – community, state, and private have opportunities for classes to be taken on-line. Some classes actually have to be taken online as it is only offered that way and most people understand that concept now. The negative stigma of online classes that lead to degrees seem to lay in the college name and in those that do not understand the credentialing process higher education. We have heard of diploma mills – colleges that pump out degrees for a very high price – these institutions have not been put through the rigorous credentialing process and have taken good money from good people and did not return the promise of good education. Like most things, the negative is what is remembered and talked about the most, making it harder for those institutions that have worked hard to pass the test of the proper credentialing. The path to my degree did not lead to college parties, socials or theme weeks – no, my path was one of intimidation, revelation, determination, and ultimately victory.
My path to college starts where everyone else’s does – elementary school. Growing up, I did what I needed to do to pass – nothing more, nothing less. My parents always told me I had greater potential than just mediocrity, but no matter how many times they told me, I couldn’t believe it so I didn’t strive for anything different. Enter my high school years and the dreaded “No pass, No play” rule was introduced – I had to keep at least a C average in order to play sports – at that time, softball was my sanity and I couldn’t lose that. I was very, very thankful for the numerous PE classes offered. See, I had pegged myself “the dumb jock” – that was my persona, that was me. I did not have brains, I did not have looks, but I could spit further than most of the boys, and I carried bloodied knees and elbows as badges of honor. College was not even in my vocabulary – I had no intention of going and not prepared to do so. What happened next rocked my world and was not something I was expecting – reality happened.
Graduation came and went. I was having a good time playing ball, working part-time and just going along when all of the sudden my parents hit me with the reality that one of two things had to happen. I had to either get a full time job that would offer me health insurance or I would have to enroll in school full time in order to stay insured! I was floored, that those were my choices. Little did I know that that day would alter my life in ways I never dreamed possible.
I had zero skills past making pizzas and selling shoes and finding full time work did not happen. Therefore, I enrolled in school. Because I had so many transcript deficits and barely even busted two digits on the ACT exam, I decided to enroll in our local technical college. I took remedial classes, core classes, and peppered in some major classes. I had very little expectation of actually “becoming” something, but then something amazing happened – something that I could not believe – I actually enjoyed learning – I absolutely fell in love with education.
Therefore, it began. I loved learning and the dream of a college degree was planted in my heart. I graduated from technical school with a diploma first and later an associate degree from that same school. I married and then went back to the technical school, however not as a student this time, but as an employee. After a couple of years of working, that itch for learning started flaring again and I was able to leave full time employment and enrolled in a junior college in a neighboring town. After going as far as I could go in the junior college, I found another institution that took many of my courses from both institutions and allowed me to enroll as a college senior. I could not believe it, one year – I had one year left and I would be a college graduate. Nothing could stand in my way; well, almost nothing.
Yes, in the life that is mine, I was two weeks in to my senior year of college when my husband and I found out we were expecting a baby. See, I had been told that pregnancy would be a long shot for me and therefore becoming a mom was not something, like college, I had prepared for. My husband and I decided it would be best to put education on hold and focus on being a family. Therefore, from 1998 to 2007 that was pretty much what I did. I was a mom – I worked part time and volunteered here and there, but mostly I was a wife and a mom and was okay with that, until one day, I was not.
I am not sure of the exact date, but sometime in late 2007, I received a post card advertising the new satellite campus of Strayer University in a town close by. The post card was directed to the now named West Georgia Technical College graduates and stated that an agreement was reached between the two institutions for transfer credits. In that moment, the possibility of obtaining a bachelor’s degree seemed within reach. It was not going to be cheap, most private, for profit institutions are not. It was not going to be easy. I was a wife, a mom, an employee, and a volunteer – I was so many things and I could not imagine the thought of being a student too. Nevertheless, after much prayer and through the encouragement and support of my husband and child I enrolled, and two grueling, horrible years later, I finally did it. I became a college graduate – the first one in my family. Had I realized how difficult it was going to be, I probably would not have enrolled, but now to think, the dumb jock, the one that had no expectation of being anything other than mediocre is a college graduate was getting her degree.
Therefore, to those that finds yourself in a situation like me – where online college was/is truly your only way of obtaining a dream, my suggestion is to do your research. Find a school that has been accredited by the most rigorous of tests and go for it. Go for it with your head held high and never be ashamed or feel less than because you had to do things different from others. This is your journey, your story.
To those that have a tendency to lower your nose to us that obtained our degree online – just stop. You likely have no idea what it took us to get to where we are. We sacrificed as much, even possibly, more, we worked hard, we studied, we took our computers on vacation, we folded laundry while listening to lectures, and we did what we had to in order to accomplish a dream that once would not have been possible. We did it, we graduated.