Vol. 13, No. 3,245 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2007

American Opportunity

by Seth Gordon
American Reporter Correspondent
Yellow Springs, Ohio

Printable version of this story

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio -- Every year, and release a guide to assist parents and their young adult-children in the process of picking the perfect college. Phrases like "running the admissions gauntlet" make the process sound more like a video game than an educational experience.

Little attention is given to the adult student who has already finished college, typically is employed, may have a family, and is thinking of returning to school to earn a graduate degree. Idealistic pursuits have given way to pragmatism as English majors search for MBA's.

Often, existing graduate school guides and fairs have a plenty of options for the traditional graduate student who is willing to attend full time or leave important social networks to attend school in another state. Local state schools cater to a twenty-something demographic, and may fail to mention that some of the required courses for the degree are only offered during the day, further hampering the non-traditional student.

Omnipresent online programs, such as the University of Pheonix or Walden University, focus heavily on professional programs geared to the working adult and may lack the prestige of campus based programs. Sometimes a stubborn streak of idealism lingers and the English major stops looking at the MBA and wonders if it would be possible to pursue a Masters in Literature without giving up their day job.

For the past two and half years I have recruited for the Individualized Liberal and Professional Studies (ILPS) Master of Arts program at Antioch University McGregor, one of five campuses in the Antioch University family. Entering its 30th year, our program allows students to self-design graduate degrees in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Visual & Performing Arts, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

A limited residency program, students spend a total of seven days on campus over two sessions. The rest of their course work is done using a combination of on-line, face-to-face, institutional or experiential learning. Students progress at their own pace and are able to design courses that may take from 2 weeks to 6 months or more to complete.

Antioch is not alone in providing this option. Union Institute in Ohio, Goddard College in Vermont, Prescott College in Arizona, Empire State in New York and Lesley College in Masssachusetts all provide similar programs that can be accomplished at a distance. All are accredited and cater to the adult learner. In today's changing world, these programs represent an important path to higher education.

It is almost impossible to define the "typical" individualized student. Most people pursue a master's degree to gain access to a profession, such as psychology or teaching. Others hope to add to their resume in an effort to reach senior level positions. In many cases, our students are already doing both.

Through a combination of expertise, courage, skill, and being in the right place at the right time, they have found themselves in positions typically reserved for those who already have a master's degree. They come to Antioch to gain a credential that has long eluded them.

Traditional programs do not speak to or incorporate their level of expertise. Our program honors their expertise by allowing them to begin where they are in their own learning; allowing for some degree credit for their life experience through a rigorous portfolio review process.

Others come to the program for more traditional reasons but need or desire a highly customizable program. Constant travel, seasonal ebbs and flows, or irregular hours can make even traditional online learning seem inflexible.

For the working parent or professional it is almost impossible to pursue a traditional academic discipline like history or literature without attending graduate school full time. These students are able to pursue these fields without sacrificing their own lifestyle, the quality of their instruction, or their professional momentum.

Traditional advice around graduate school often has students scrambling to find the program with the right faculty member who will mesh with their personal interests. Sometimes the most convenient or most cost effective program does not have faculty to support a creative or non-traditional approach to a common problem.

What happens if an existing program has only one faculty member and there is a basic clash of personalities (if you know anything about higher education, you know what I mean)? What about the individual who needs to pursue a field of study that has never been explored? Who do they work with?

It is not possible for the academy to anticipate every interest or field and design a degree to suit that pursuit. For individuals in growing or rising professions the need to set themselves apart sends them looking for programs that may not exist.

McGregor's ILPS program allows them to blend disparate educational resources and individuals into a united program. Students have the opportunity to approach their favorite author or the "top dog" in their field or to work with respected and industry specific non-academic institutions.

As long as these individuals have the proper credentials and are approved by the student's Antioch academic advisor they can move forward. Each student creates a quilt of institutional, individual, experiential and alternative learning that eventually becomes a rigorous degree often with a list of faculty they would never have been able to hope for at all but the most elite traditional programs in the country.

The exciting thing about Antioch University McGregor's program is the space it provides for unique scholarship. One current student is pursuing a focus in Liberation Psychology that uses drama to uncover and undo the psychology of living in a culturally oppressive society.

"Strategic Transformation" is the province of an executive coach, also a successful entrepreneur and environmentalist, who has developed a side practice of assisting individuals in attaining their personal or professional goals. Studying world dance led one student to develop a college curriculum after traveling around the world and ultimately led to Fulbright Scholarship to continue the work.

Holistic health is a popular pursuit now ranging over areas such as yoga psychology to vibrational healing that explores sound and its relationship to wellness. We have corporate trainers who have developed innovative curriculum for their industry, and blended their education with their professional practice.

One of the most topical was a young woman using art to humanize children living in Iraq and Afghanistan to American children who did not believe that anyplace we were at war with could even have children in it.

Traditional graduate study may still be the best course for many. This is not the easy way to go to graduate school and requires a tenacious spirit. If you work better in a structured program, with classes and a full complement of faculty members already in place to teach you, then this kind of program may not be for you.

Despite some skeptical academics at other institutions who cannot imagine anything outside of the status quo, our program and others like it continue to produce innovative, thoughtful and successful individuals who push the boundaries of existing scholarship simply by leading themselves.

For those who want their education their own way and on their own terms, Antioch University McGregor provides.

To learn more about the Antioch McGregor program please visit www.mcgregor.edu or contact Seth Gordon at sgordon@mcgregor.edu.

Copyright 2007 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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