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First generation student adjusts to college life

Submitted by Jacob Ellerbee on November 19, 2012 – 2:19 pmNo Comment

The Great Recession of 2008 put millions of Americans out of work and into a position of uncertainty. People who had little-to-no higher education were abruptly thrown into a situation in which new jobs were nearly impossible to find. In order to increase the likelihood of finding a job, many people decided to go back to college.

No one understands the effects of the recession more than non-traditional junior, Amy Jo Hall. After she was widowed in 2007, she realized she needed to do something to give herself a better opportunity to support her family.

“The market for telecommunications [her previous job] is kind of oversaturated and underpaid,” Hall said. “So I knew I would have to pursue a degree to actually have any kind of a job to support my family the way that my late husband did.”

Hall began to research schools that were in close proximity to her hometown of Conway. She said the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton offered her a scholarship based on her GED scores. She began classes in spring 2009 and graduated with three associate degrees in December 2011.

Hall began looking at schools that have a reputation for producing graduates of business programs. She scheduled a tour of UALR and was pleased with what she saw. She applied for a transfer scholarship and was awarded the maximum amount for the Shelby Breedlove Scholarship.

Not only is Hall a non-traditional student, but she is also a full-time student. She is currently pursuing a degree in Management Information Systems and taking 15 credit hours in her first year at UALR.

“It’s manageable because I’m not working,” Hall said. “Social security supports my family enough that I don’t have to work right now; I can focus on my studies.”

Some may wonder what the adjustment is like for non-traditional students going from the workforce to becoming a student. The Non-Traditional Student Programs help them adjust to life as a college student.

Non-Traditional Student Programs Director Cynda Alexander, said she is usually the first point of contact for non-traditional students like Hall.

“Generally, every day I’ll have contact with a student that needs some kind of help, or finding resources, or needs a mentor, or a tutor, or just reassurance,” Alexander said.

She knows what it’s like to be a non-traditional student because she also came back to school in order to pursue a career change.

“I could no longer make a living as a real estate agent in 2005,” Alexander said. “So I went back to school to get my bachelor’s and master’s degree.”

One way Alexander helps non-traditional students is by coordinating peer-mentor groups so non-traditional students can help other non-traditional students.

“I line them up with a peer mentor for that first semester and then they end up turning into mentors for me that next semester and [they] stay with me until they leave,” Alexander said. “It’s amazing to watch the transformation of a non-traditional student from the first semester even to the second semester. Once they’ve conquered that first semester — it’s priceless, it really is.”


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