Back to school: CBU focuses on adult learners

Christian Brothers University just saw its first adult student graduate from the recently created College of Adult Professional Studies. The degree program was created with non-traditional students in mind, focusing on the unique needs of working adults.

It's a big year for Justin Alexander.

Not only is he expecting his first child in less than a month, but the 39-year-old also recently earned his first bachelor's degree.

As a father who works full time, Alexander is not alone in pursuing a higher education while facing extra obstacles. Luckily for him and other Memphians, Christian Brothers University is willing to meet them halfway.

In January of this year, the top-ranked school launched the College of Adult Professional Studies (CAPS), a restructured version of its evening classes program which serves as a separate college and answers the specific needs of adult students.

"We wanted to be more responsive to market demands," says Toni Ross, Dean of the CBU CAPS program. "Now adult students can complete their degrees in the same amount of time as a traditional student who takes a typical 12-hour semester."

Alexander became the first graduate of that program on May 17.

"It was great. I was able to save time and money, and they definitely tailor to your approach and try to keep you on track," Alexander says. He earned a bachelor of arts in professional psychology with an emphasis in organizational psychology, one of five programs offered through CAPS.

Other psychology degrees include criminal justice and consumer behavior. Also offered are a bachelor of science in business with a concentration in management or management of information systems, and two associate's degrees.

Alexander enrolled in CBU's adult program in 2010 when he, along with countless others, was laid off during the fallout from the economic recession. "There wasn't a lot of opportunity around, so I decided to make myself more competitive to employers and earn a degree," he says.

He chose Christian Brothers because of its flexibility and, after enrolling in a few pre-requisite classes, focused on psychology because of his interest level.

"I could finish my entire degree at night," he says. In fact, through the new CAPS program, most classes are offered online, with only one two-hour night class per week for each course.

Administrators have also reduced tuition to $395 per credit hour, savings which help financial aid last longer and leave wiggle room for books and supplies.

"We had priced ourselves out of the market, so we did an extensive tuition review and looked at local competitors and online offerings, and saw we needed to work within the financial aid budgets of adult students," Ross says. "It's tough to get a federal grant as an adult student. Your income level has to be quite low. We could make it a bit easier and make it work with their budget."

Future plans for the program include creating an adult students' organization, honor society and career services program, as well as a speaker series and an adult student career fair with events held on the weekends or during night class breaks.

"We're excited about the change. Enrollment is starting to pick back up, and our current students are staying with us," Ross says.

Alexander has his own set of future plans, which include finding a job in human resources to bolster his resume and then pursuing a master's degree to become an organizational psychologist.

"They develop job responsibilities, job descriptions, the advertisements which describe what an agency is looking for, develop work flow. They help turn all the nuts and bolts," he says.

But first, about that baby.

"I'll start thinking about my master's degree when I'm able to get some sleep," Alexander said.

Read more articles by Lesley Young.

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