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Adult Students: Excelling without Recognition?

By Katie Kather

The dean’s list is an iconic award for college students. Seen in movies and television shows, the dean’s list is portrayed as an honor.

Everything from the requirements to the name of the award vary from school to school, but the idea is the same: to honor students who are performing at a high level.

Over 200 Aurora University students will never receive that honor. Not because they didn’t make the grade – because they are in the Adult Degree Completion program, known by the university as the ADC program.

Traditional and ADC students qualify if they have a 3.6 GPA or higher and enrolled for a minimum of 12 credit hours, or full-time. Schools like Ashford University and the University of Washington require a minimum 3.5 GPA, while the University of Pennsylvania requires a minimum GPA of 3.7.

The average credit load for an ADC student is nine credit hours. In fact, only 27 percent of adult students are enrolled for 12 or more credit hours.

Aurora University has offered evening classes since 1947, but just recently began to offer an official adult degree program.

The program offers accelerated eight-week courses where students go through the program in cohorts.

When Marcia Koenen, director of adult studies, came to the university five years ago, the ADC program only offered four majors. Today it boasts eight: accounting, business administration, communication, criminal justice, marketing, psychology, RN to BSN and social work.

The program exists as a service to adults. The university acknowledges adult students have different needs. According to their page on AU’s website, they “know your plate is full. You may be married, have children, own a home and work full time. We understand there is much more to your life than attending classes. So our expert faculty members will do all they can to respond to your needs.”

While it may be a good thing the university recognizes the special needs of adult students, has the specialized nature of the program inherently left out the ability for adult students to receive awards?

According to Koenen, it is a situation the university has not considered. “To be honest, nobody has brought it to my attention. I would not want adult students to feel like they’re not part of the university or their accomplishments are not noticed. If that is a feeling students have, I think we would need to look at that,” said Koenen.

Jason Rix completed the ADC program in Dec. 2011. One of his goals as a returning student was to see his name on the dean’s list. “Returning to college as an adult, I had three goals for myself: Earn the bachelor’s degree that I had coveted for the past decade, earn a 4.0 GPA and earn a spot on the dean’s list. Unfortunately, I was never able to achieve my spot on the dean’s list. As a part-time student balancing work, family and academics, enrolling in the required 12 credit hours required to earn this distinction was not feasible,” said Rix.

Other ADC students see the dean’s list as a useless award. ADC student Lisa Burton did not even know what the dean’s list was at first. As the human resources manager at Hollywood Casino, Burton has made many hiring decisions. “I’ve literally reviewed thousands of resumes, for all kinds of jobs. Seeing ‘dean’s list’ or considering a GPA has only once influenced my selection and it was for an internship program specifically designed for recent graduates,” said Burton.

“To me, it doesn’t seem to be anything. It’s a list that gets posted, published or something? Maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe if I needed a job I’d feel like it was meaningful to put it on my resume, but otherwise, it means less than nothing to me. If I put myself in the shoes of a ‘traditional’ student, I definitely see the value. If I’m finishing college, have no work history to speak of, only academics, I’d feel good about putting Dean’s list on my resume.  It’s all I’d have to differentiate myself from everyone else without a work history,” said Burton.

Traditional undergrads are not silent on the topic. AU senior, Katie Chambers, feels that ADC students often get preferential treatment by being offered accelerated or evening courses. Many traditional undergrads like Chambers also balance working full time with a full-time course load. Chambers has been denied access to several evening classes because she is not enrolled in the ADC program. That said, she thinks they should change the dean’s list requirements to solely GPA, whether or not a student is full-time.

Some universities have separated their adult program into a separate school under the larger umbrella of the university. This is how DePaul University in Chicago is able to honor its adult students.

DePaul University has an adult program called The School for New Learning. It is set up as a separate school with its own dean. Because of the distinction, adult students in this program have their own dean’s list. Students must receive a GPA of 3.5 and be enrolled in eight credit hours per quarter, according to Lucia Lopez, assistant director of DePaul’s adult enrollment center.

While this may not be a feasible option for AU, certain ADC programs offer students other types of recognition.

The RN to BSN program has an award for outstanding students in the program. RN to BSN officials were not available for comment.

Koenen admits that the university has not considered offering a different award to ADC students. “That’s certainly a conversation I can have with the academic standings committee. My thoughts would be to start with Deann [Edgers] of the RN to BSN program and get the history of the award that she has. I don’t know how the awards are created. I wouldn’t want to say that things will never change because I’m personally not aware of any discussion on it,” said Koenen.

Adult students at AU are not alone. Ashford University, the University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania all require full-time status for students to make the dean’s list; whether traditional or adult.

While some ADC students agree that the dean’s list itself isn’t important, they do think the school should offer some type of formal recognition for performing ADC students. “I didn’t realize we didn’t qualify, but it would be nice if there were some type of recognition,” said ADC student Kim Kubiak.

The lack of formal university recognition can intensify the feeling that many adult students have of being an outsider.

“I earned my B.A in Communication in Dec. 2011 with a 4.0 GPA, but financial and time constraints made enrolling in the required courses to earn dean’s list honors an elusive goal. I have the highest regards for my time spent, and the education I received at AU, but not being able to receive dean’s list honors because I was not enrolled as a full-time student, made me feel like an outsider,” said Rix.

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