Non-Traditional Grads Say It’s Never Too Late to Learn

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In spring 2016, Ron Broyles of New Madrid, Missouri, was out of a job after being displaced by Noranda Aluminum after nearly three decades at the smelter.

Now, two years later, he’s completed an unimaginable journey towards a college degree and is hoping his new credentials will serve him well in the job market.

Broyles, who plans to graduate with a Bachelor of Science with a major in engineering technology, electrical and controls option, enrolled at Southeast while taking advantage of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program. TAA is a federal program that assists U.S. workers who have lost or may lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade. The program assists participants obtain skills, credentials and resources necessary to become reemployed.

“I had no desire to go back to school and finish my bachelor’s degree, but when I lost my job of more than 28 years, I knew I had to do something,” Broyles said. “I decided to finish my degree in an electrical field since I already had some classes from my associate’s degree along with a background in it.”

Ron Broyles

This week, Broyles joins several other nontraditional students – many over 50 years old – who will be crossing the stage while demonstrating the “will to do” has no age parameters. Among other non-traditional students earning bachelor’s degrees and preparing to pursue their next challenges are Marie Gill of Portageville, Missouri, and Lorrie Compton of LaGrange, Georgia.

Compton, who will earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), had been a registered nurse for 31 years. Her husband’s employment brought them to Cape Girardeau in 2015. While job-hunting, she found that bachelor’s degrees for nursing were required for positions that at one time only required associate’s degrees.

“I could stay status quo and finish the last 15 years of my career with my ADN, or bite the bullet, go for it and have an edge for the last 15 years,” Compton said.

Lorrie Compton

During her return to college, Compton and her husband again relocated to the Atlanta area, but thanks to Southeast Online, she was able to complete her degree.

In nursing, most management positions, public health positions, and advanced degree programs require applicants to have a BSN, Compton said.

“Even if I never pursue a higher degree, or go into management, many regular staff nurse jobs at hospitals that have ‘magnet’ status require their nurses to have a BSN, even at the entry level,” Compton explained, “The knowledge I have obtained and the current teaching in the field of nursing has made me a more knowledgeable nurse.”

Marie Gill

Another soon-to-be non-traditional graduate, Marie Gill, will earn a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in accounting. Gill completed a couple of years of college at Southeast in the early 1980s. She then took a break from college to marry and raise a family but maintained her philosophy — you’re never too old to learn – and eventually returned to Southeast.

She has been employed in the banking industry for many years, completing many of her classes at night, at Southeast’s Sikeston campus and through Southeast Online.

“This was the perfect opportunity to help me stay up-to-date with my work environment and life in general,” Gill said. “It will give me the ability to take my foundation and use it for future roles I hope to experience.”

The students say they are pleased their efforts have resulted in updated knowledge in their fields and expanded opportunities for advancement that bachelor’s degrees, in addition to their work experiences, can provide.

Banking organizations and professionals constantly face changes in rules and regulations, and Gill said she will be able to make decisions with confidence from her increased knowledge.

During their studies at Southeast, Broyles, Gill and Compton have encountered both typical experiences as non-traditional students as well as some surprises.

“The competition on grades by some of the students is really fun. Some don’t like it when the ‘old man’ beats them on a test,” Broyles said.

Gill gained helpful tips in time management and communication skills through her interactions with fellow students and instructors.

“Thankfully, the interaction I’ve had with classmates both online and in the classroom have helped me slow my pace, resulting in me absorbing more of the course content,” she said. “I also learned to develop strong communication. Everyone wants the education experience to be positive and beneficial, and they have helped make this happen.”

Broyles is pursuing positions in the electrical field and hopes to be hired soon after graduation. Gill plans to take some time to focus on her family and then pursue certification as a certified public accountant (CPA). Compton, who is currently employed as a nurse at a hospital in the Atlanta area, is weighing her options, as she loves being a nurse, but may be ready to phase out of the long shifts.

Reaching the other side of the returning learner experience, the graduates confirm that their decisions were the right moves, and encourage others to “go for it.”

“Don’t give up even if the going gets tough.  If I can do it, anybody can,” Broyles said. “I will have my degree when I’m done and that is something that can’t be taken away from me whether I use it or not.”

Not only has their knowledge been enriched, but they also have made new and lasting connections.

“Stay open-minded to opportunities, make close connections with those you study with because these contacts can lead to longtime friendships and professional opportunities in the future.” Gill said.