Earlier this year, the University of Michigan-Flint launched an innovative pathway that makes earning a college degree accessible for working adults and busy transfer students: the Accelerated Online Degree Completion program.
Every aspect of AODC was built with accessibility in mind. The accelerated, seven-week courses are offered in a totally online, asynchronous format. The faculty and staff of the program cater to non-traditional students as well: Stephanie Martiny, AODC advisor, went back to college while raising a family while Roy Barnes, AODC director, has designed a curriculum that acknowledges the life experiences of adult students.
With such an approachable format, it's no surprise that AODC attracted a wide range of learners when classes began in August. Despite the differences in their backgrounds and life circumstances, common themes emerged in their experiences studying in the AODC program at UM-Flint – starting with their history in other college's programs.
AODC works where other programs don't
"I've been around the block – 20 years in and out of colleges and universities – and found that nothing fit," said Roderick Payne, who works for General Motors Racing as a lab systems engineer while also maintaining a family farm. "AODC is going to hold me accountable because the accelerated format pushes you to keep going, to do a little bit of work every day."
Demanding work schedules are a common reason the asynchronous online format works for adult learners, followed closely by family obligations. Jamee Taylor, who originally stopped out of her UM-Flint studies after having her first child, saw AODC as an opportunity to balance education, career and family.
"Being a mother of three kids, being a full-time chemist, I heard about the AODC program and said 'this is perfect for me,'" said Taylor, who lives in Livonia and works for the chemical company BASF. "Being able to finish my degree on my own time in the evenings after dinner and the kids are in bed is perfect. Listening to some audiobooks for classes during my commute is actually really efficient."
While the structure of the program is a draw for many, every student shares the ultimate goal of earning a college degree – though the motivations behind that goal differ for each student.
Why AODC students are earning their degrees
Thanks to her stellar work performance, Taylor was promoted from a contractor to a full-time chemist role despite not having a degree, though she describes the process of convincing management to approve the promotion as an "uphill battle." That was when she knew earning a degree was necessary for further career advancement.
"Although I am qualified based on performance, it was going to be difficult to continue to climb in this industry without a degree," said Taylor. "I'll easily be screened out from further promotions even if my performance warrants one. This realization was one of the main drivers that prompted me to continue the pursuit of my bachelor's degree."
For other students, earning a college degree is about family. Michael Walker, who lives in Warren, has worked for AT&T for more than 20 years and has found success climbing the corporate ladder. Despite this, he recognizes the changing realities of the job market and wants to set an example for his young children.
"For pretty much every job, if you're going to maximize your earning potential, you have to have a degree now," Walker said. "I will advocate for my kids to attend college, but I also don't want to be a hypocrite, so I was looking for a program that will let me finish my degree before I'm in my fifties – that's what led me to AODC at UM-Flint."
Support services and scholarships
Flint native D'Mya Mason attended a few universities before health problems and unsupportive faculty caused her to stop out. While completing her degree is a priority for Mason, doing so at a cost that makes sense for her future is equally important. To that end, UM-Flint is currently offering a scholarship for AODC students like Mason to put the dream of earning a college degree within reach.
"It covered three of my four classes this semester," Mason said. "So I've only had to pay out of pocket for one class." This scholarship is available for students enrolling through summer 2023.
Mason also found support through her advisor. Martiny assists AODC students from application to graduation, providing a level of service elevated from Mason's previous experiences.
"I talked with Stephanie about my transfer credits and she let me know that I actually already completed a lot of the required classes, and told me the schedule of courses I'll need to graduate," Mason said. "I've had a lot of times in college where it feels like I'm facing every single obstacle. But with this, it was just like, 'You're good. Take your classes and it's smooth sailing.'"
"Stephanie is the greatest," said Payne, who also went on to praise program faculty like Barnes for their commitment to student success.
"He knows what we're going through, and the highlight of my experience is communication from professors like Dr. Barnes, making me feel important and valued here. Sometimes it would be to motivate us – 'I don't see much activity here.' He is very good at leading the class and helping us understand the expectations of the course."
Applications are now being accepted
Students like Payne are now finishing their second term of courses, thanks to AODC's accelerated format offering six course starts through the year. The next opportunity to begin in AODC is Jan. 4, so now is the time to submit an application and contact Martiny for next steps.
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.