California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program empowers post-traditional students

Photo Contributed by Jessica Stratton
Jessica Stratton was selected as Commencement Speaker for the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program.

Post-traditional students have the opportunity to enroll in the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program at California Lutheran University, or in traditional undergraduate courses. 

The Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program is open to students who are returning to school, who have careers and want to receive their Bachelor’s Degree, or those who have a lot to juggle but want to complete their education.

The Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program is currently offering the majors of accounting and financial analysis, business management, criminology and justice studies, organizational leadership, psychological and behavioral science, and strategic communication.

“So it develops a common language. You don’t have to explain yourself,” Dean of the School for Professional and Continuing Studies Lisa Buono said. “The person next to you understands you differently than someone who’s just in a different part of their life or experienced their life differently than maybe an 18-year-old who’s coming straight from high school, who has had different types of support. They’re in two different life spaces.” 

Buono wants to prioritize post-traditional students because she said they’re an amazing student population with the amount of barriers they deal with and the amount that they’re juggling.

Buono said there were 110 students enrolled in the program during fall 2023. She said, “they’re just an incredible, highly motivated student population.”

She said a lot of their students, if they’re not already professionals, have a very clear understanding of where they’re headed.

Senior Jessica Stratton is a student in the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program and will be graduating in spring 2024. She is a mom of five children and said she owes her support to her fiancée Jeremy. Stratton was selected as the Commencement Speaker of the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program’s class of 2024. 

Stratton said she looked into the Cal Lutheran professionals program and thought it would work for her as a mom who is working full-time. She said she also looked into the music program and got the opportunity to be part of the Cal Lutheran band playing the flute. 

“I applied and I got in. And it’s been amazing. It’s like a dream that I never thought would happen,” Stratton said. 

Classes for the program are mostly held in the evening because of student’s obligations during the day. 

Stratton said she is a paraeducator for special needs children and because she works full-time, the program was the best option for her since taking evening classes fit her schedule best. She said she attends class two days a week. 

“I work from 8:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m., so the professional’s program was perfect for me because I have time to get off work, pick up my kids from school, get them home, and then get to class by six,” Stratton said.

Cal Lutheran alumna Brandy Rowe graduated in the spring of 2023, and said she had about a 20-year gap before returning to school to receive her Bachelor’s in art.

“I chose Cal Lutheran because I liked their art program. What I liked about Cal Lutheran was that their program was more of a general program,” Rowe said.

Rowe attended Cal Lutheran for two years and said she now has a full-time job. She’s a teacher’s aide at her daughter’s school and also has a few part-time jobs on the side because she is a dance teacher and choreographer.

She said she owes her support to her husband, mom, and daughter. 

“I looked into the professional program but it didn’t have what I wanted. I majored in art and so the professional’s program just has select degrees. So I was a regular student,” Rowe said.

Rowe said Cal Lutheran was the place for her and that she liked the small campus and class sizes.

“What I also liked was that I wasn’t the only older person there. I liked that I did see other people of my age. Some were even older, getting their degrees and working towards it,” Rowe said.

Rowe said Cal Lutheran has good professors, a good community, a great location and she always felt included.

“And with the younger students, I didn’t feel out of place. I felt like I kind of fit in. In a way, I was able to make some connections and things like that,” Rowe said. “Nobody treated me differently or anything like that just because I was older. I think that’s why I would recommend Cal Lutheran.” 

She said her experiences returning back to school, no longer as a teen, was much more enjoyable. 

“I enjoyed it so much more being older; being more mature in going to school. I wanted to be there,” Rowe said. “I found what I was learning about interesting, even things that I never thought I would find interesting. I had a geology class. Now, I look at mountains and rocks completely differently.”

Rowe wasn’t the only student who chose to enroll with traditional undergraduate students. 

Senior David Lawson is a student returning to school to get his Bachelor’s in theology after taking a 20-year gap of education. During that time, Lawson developed his career, became a minister, got married, and started a family. Lawson said he and his wife have worked with youth ministry for the past 12 years.

Lawson said he became aware of the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals Program after he enrolled but wanted to enroll as a full-time student during the day.

“I wanted to be able to interact with professors, interact with my peers. I think partly because of what I’m interested in too. I enjoy just being around people who are younger and hearing their perspectives on things because I have my perspectives that I know I’ve thought about for years and years,” Lawson said.  “But it’s really interesting for me to be able to hear, firsthand, what people are wrestling with, what questions they have, how they engage in scriptures.”

Lawson said more information available about the program would be good for others. He said having more diversity of life experience is good in general, and trying to pursue people who have families or are already working professionally but want to come back to school and build or continue their education is beneficial. 

“My wife is easily the greatest support I have. I’m here full-time. With the exception of this semester, I’ve been here Monday through Friday every day with classes,” Lawson said. “And then, of course, there’s time away to study, do homework, or write papers and whatnot. So she’s been the greatest support, just really holding down the family life and making sure the kids have what they need.”

Lawson said his next possible step is to get his PhD in Theology. 

Cal Lutheran has provided Post-Traditional Students the opportunity to take the traditional route or the post-traditional route to suit their personal and professional needs. 

“In some of our classes, they’ll start talking through what’s happening at one of their companies, and then they’ll dissect it through the theory and kind of work on ‘oh, well, you know, maybe this is how you should approach it tomorrow,’” Buono said. “So the things that they learn in class, they oftentimes, can apply literally the next day at work.”

Buono said another benefit of the program is that students are in classrooms with like-minded individuals. 

“They’re with a classroom of students who are just like them, whether those individuals are 20 years old or if they’re 70 years old, they share a commonality of not having gone to complete their degree in a different way because of life circumstances,” Buono said. 

She said being with students who have similar life journeys, all together in a classroom, is beneficial. 

Stratton said she’s met two classmates that she’s become close with and can call them to ask for help. She also is very happy she can be a part of the on-campus community.

Buono said what makes the program special is that every student gets an assigned academic counselor who provides them with very personal attention. She said a lot of their students share their life stories with their academic counselors which then helps the counselor better help students plan to be successful. 

“We also have the most diverse student population on campus, but because of the way we handle academic counseling and because of the faculty mentoring we live in, I think,” Buono said. “Whether a student identifies as being Latinx or not, they’re getting very intense interaction and care from people associated with the program.”

The program, Buono said, has dedicated full-time faculty with a large number of adjunct faculty. She said this balance helps students receive an academic perspective while also getting people who work in the field who can talk.

Lastly, she said all their faculty work as mentors. 

“We really walk our talk. There are definitely other institutions that’ll say, ‘Oh you’ll get personal attention and this and that.’ But we really live that,” Buono said. “We have an advising and academic counseling advising model. The name is horrible but it is a research-based model which is intrusive advising. So we combine that with another philosophy of student care. And that’s how we approach each and every student.”

Stratton said she loves all her professors, particularly Senior Adjunct Faculty Member Kristen Roye and Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Chair Ariana Young.

“I’m a student who stays after class. When I have trouble, they stay as long as I need to. Through office hours and emailing, they contact me right away,” Stratton said. 

Buono said they have also redesigned the program and shifted their curriculum in 2023 to better meet the needs of students and meet them where they’re at. 

The program will also soon open up to provide prospective students with an online option. 

“Anyone can take it completely in person or completely online. So you’ll have a choice of which path fits their life’s circumstances,” Buono said.

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