What to Do When “Life Happens”

Nontraditional students find alternate routes to obtaining college degrees at EOU.

Brand Story – Eastern Oregon University’s flexible online programs allow adult learners to finish what they started.

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Angelica Fuentes was on the verge of a major opportunity. She was being promoted to Site Director and Educational Coordinator of the migrant Head Start program she worked for. Exciting as it was, the promotion came with a significant caveat: she’d need to finish college.
Angelica’s last college course was in 2006—nine years prior to the promotion opportunity—where she completed two terms at Eastern Oregon University after transferring from Treasure Valley Community College. Then, as she put it, “life happened.” She was taking care of her newborn child, in addition to working a full-time job and raising two other children. Her husband was traveling nine months of the year as a college basketball coach. For Angelica, a full college course load was nearly impossible. The degree was put on hold.

By the time the she was offered the promotion, not much had changed. Her children were older and had busier schedules; her job responsibilities had increased; not to mention, she was a 45-minute drive from the nearest university. Yet those challenges also served as motivation. “At the time, my oldest son was entering high school,” she said. “If I’m urging him to finish, but I don’t have a degree, then what type of example am I setting? How can I actually practice what I preach?”

To find a feasible solution, Angelica met with Priscilla Valero, an advisor and Regional Center Director at Eastern Oregon University (EOU). Returning to college in 2015, Angelica had “a million questions.” Valero started as she does with most students—first by forming a deep understanding of Angelica’s personal story and goals, then by helping design the most efficient degree path.
Priscilla Priscilla Valero is one of 11 online advisors at EOU located throughout Oregon.

For Angelica, this meant a degree in Integrative Studies—an individualized, on-site/online plan that would apply her past credits toward two of EOU’s minors. It also balanced the workload with her professional and familial responsibilities.

Finding such an accelerated degree path brought tremendous relief, Angelica said. This feeling expanded once she began classes, in part because most of her online classmates were around her age and facing similar challenges. Before evening study group calls, many had just put their children to sleep or cleaned up after family dinner. The group’s mutual support was instrumental in keeping one another motivated. Angelica also added that the professors were aware of the responsibilities and lifestyles for working parents—otherwise known as “nontraditional learners”—and tailored expectations and communication outlets appropriately.

AngelicaAngelica Fuentes finished her B.A. — after more than ten years — and accepted a work promotion.

In spring 2018, Angelica graduated with her bachelor’s degree. To her, it represented far more than a piece of paper or the keys to her promotion. “I never realized how badly I wanted to finish college,” she said. “My children watched me walk across the stage. Now they can look at me and say, ‘One day, that’s going to be me.’”

“Life happens” to students all over the country. Around 36 million Americans currently hold college credit but don’t have a bachelor’s degree. Over half of EOU’s population are transfer students, with many being nontraditional learners. “Parents commonly put their own goals on hold for their children, or other reasons,” said David Vande Pol, EOU’s Executive Director of Regional Outreach and Innovation. “Once they’re ready, our mission is to help them to fulfill their dreams.”

EOU makes the transfer process as seamless as possible. The small, public university has 11 regional centers throughout Oregon, where students can meet with advisors to walk through goals, discover best-fit programs, and ensure they’re on the most expedient graduation path. Advisors review credits and course plans thoroughly to maximize transfer credits and ensure no future credits go unused; seven of the centers are located on community college campuses for convenient access to discuss transfer and graduation options. Students may also plug courses into an online articulator tool to determine which credits are accepted and how they may be applied.
Many choose to enroll in EOU’s fully accredited online programs, which have been recognized nationally for their affordability and overall value. Curriculum is developed in-house and constantly enhanced so graduates possess the essential skills that employers seek and students are prepared to enter a diverse and interconnected world. As a result, EOU’s online programs boast identical learning outcomes to its brick-and-mortar education and attracts students from all over the world.

EOU has embodied this service-oriented mission for decades. The university started one of the first distance learning programs in the U.S.—a pioneer program in the 1980s that utilized video delivery and mailing in essay papers. While the technology has since evolved, the mission has remained unchanged. “Our charge is to reach out by any means necessary to offer higher education to those who need it,” said Vande Pol. “We take it personally. It’s a moral imperative.

IMG 1719Online coursework makes life easier for many returning students.

Following her degree, Angelica has started her position as Site Director and Educational Coordinator and manages over 25 people. For her capstone project at EOU, she attached a quote to the front of her portfolio, which read: “If parents want to give their children a gift, then teach them to be intrigued by mistakes, to enjoy effort, and to always keep learning.” Now, with her bachelor’s degree in hand, Angelica can pass this lesson on, not through words, but by example.

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.