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Nichols College Reaches the Non-Traditional Undergrad

DUDLEY, Mass.—Nichols College students are becoming more adult, and not just because they are learning the arts of leadership and serious business.

Non-traditional students—who are older than the average undergraduate—have been pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in growing numbers, thanks to the growth of the college’s online offerings, the development of more intensive seven-week courses, and a concerted recruiting effort.

Nichols College’s Undergraduate Adult Education Program (UAEP) currently enrolls about 200 students, and a number were awarded their Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degrees at the College’s May 5 Commencement ceremony. Some of these students commute to campus, while most connect via a robust array of online courses.

Changing how students connect to their courses has made a big difference, according to UAEP Chair and Assistant Professor Andrew Smith, Ph.D., who, since 2015, has presided over the program’s makeover.

“The ratio between on campus and online courses has moved largely from on campus courses to 80 percent online,” he said. “It’s a delivery method that increases accessibility if someone is far away from Nichols or has certain shifts at work.”

The online BSBA offers concentrations in general business and human resource management. The hybrid on-campus/online model also includes concentrations in management, accounting, criminal justice management, and hospitality management.

UAEP students can take time off during their degree programs so that about 100 are taking courses at any given time. With student schedules and priorities in mind, the UAEP curriculum consists of seven-week courses that concentrate the material usually covered over a full term.

“That way, our non-traditional learners can focus on one or two courses at a time,” said Professor Smith, adding that there are seven course sessions available throughout the year.

Recently these courses also have even attracted regular day students.

“We realized pretty quickly that some traditional day students want to take an accelerated course,” said Professor Smith, especially those doing internships away from the campus, studying abroad for a term, or looking to get college credits between terms. The number of such students taking UAEP courses has soared from 20 three years ago to 90.

For all the benefits of a higher education provided mainly by full-time Nichols faculty, tuition costs, at $300 per credit, are less than those of many competitors, according to Professor Smith.  

“In our area, a lot of other schools are charging $400 to $450,” he said.

As a result, the tuition for fulltime UAEP students comes to less than $10,000 a year. A portion of the adult student body arrives with some college credit already, a situation bolstered by a partnership between Nichols and four local community colleges.

“We have increased our visibility on those campuses, and we expect to see more enrollment from those students,” said Director of Undergraduate Adult Enrollment Laura Hunter. “We’re also reaching out to deployed military and finding whether they want a business and leadership education.”

Heather Richards serves as the program’s academic advisor. She helps students select and enroll in classes, and stays otherwise involved.

“I have some frequent flyers who contact me at least once a week,” she said.

While most of the UAEP students range from their 20s to their 30s, Richards noted that their ages reach into the 60s.

Colin Leavitt of Oxford, Mass., graduated high school in 1979, served in the U.S. Navy, and started college in 1996. He left school to work in industry, marry, and raise a family.

“My true love is logistics and distribution,” he said.

That led to a two-decade career marriage with a central Massachusetts biotechnology company. He worked there from 1998 to 2017, advancing to the position of director of logistics before being laid off.

“I’m unemployed and seeking a new opportunity,” said Leavitt, who is studying for his degree in general business. He is planning to work another 15 years; getting an undergraduate degree is part of that plan. Having arrived with some college credit, he’s more than halfway to his educational goal.

“When I graduate, I’ll have a good school on my resume at a good value and that I’m proud of,” said Leavitt, who also sees a more personal side to his graduation. “My two kids went to fairly expensive private colleges, and my wife has a master’s, so I said, ‘I’ll go back and get my degree, too.’”

ABOUT NICHOLS COLLEGE

Nichols College is a college of choice for business and leadership education as a result of its distinctive career-focused and leadership-based approaches to learning, both in and out of the classroom. Founded in 1815, Nichols transforms today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders. Nichols serves students interested primarily in a comprehensive business education that includes a strong liberal arts foundation curriculum.

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