Former Student, 57, Finishes Degree Online

Former Student, 57, Finishes Degree Online

After 25 years in the mortgage industry, Rodney Mills faced a difficult choice when the markets crashed almost a decade ago.

“I looked at the industry and where it was going, and not going, and began to think I needed to position myself to do other things.”

So Mills began the process of applying for positions outside retail lending but found that he lacked “the additional clout” that comes with a college degree.

Mills attended Eastern Kentucky University from 1977 through 1980 but left after earning approximately 60 credit hours as an industrial technology major. He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma and a social club called 7-11 and developed lifelong friendships.

Because he now lived and worked in the Atlanta area, a return to the Richmond campus was impractical. He considered transferring his credits to a local college but, after some research came to realize that completing an online degree was “the only logical answer.

“When I started looking into where to attend, it hit me to check and see if Eastern had an online program,” he recalled. “Why go through transferring credits, talking with other schools and having information sent somewhere when Eastern already had everything? It only made sense to finish what I started where I started it. I loved EKU and the lessons I learned and felt I needed to return there. To me, there is more validity to an EKU degree because EKU has a stronger name and history than a lot of online schools. Eastern is a real university.”

Taking classes entirely online over the past two years, Mills completed a bachelor’s degree in general studies and, surrounded by family and friends, crossed the commencement stage on Dec. 16. “My mother always wanted me to finish, so I owed it to her” to make the long trek to Richmond and march in the University’s fall commencement ceremonies.

“I completed my coursework on a Friday and had a new job – as a process and training analyst with Assurant Specialty Property – waiting on Monday. Excellent pay, new field, remote working from home, great benefits. Truly a job I always wanted.”

Even before he realized his own dream, Mills often urged family members, teenagers, young adults “and whoever would listen” to pursue a college degree.

“It opens doors that will not open without it,” he said. “I said it so much, and I truly believed it so much, that I looked at myself and said, ‘If you believe that much in a degree, why haven’t you finished?’ I didn’t have a good answer. I am actually elated, proud, ecstatic and a little overwhelmed to have completed my degree. I feel something I truly didn’t think I would feel. I do not live in regrets, but I wish I had done it much sooner.”

So now he borrows Nike’s slogan and tells others to “just do it. Don’t wait. Now is the time. You only live once. You pick the reason, but do it. Age makes no difference. I did it at 55 and, two quick years later, I am starting my second career with an opportunity for even more advancements.”

Mills was “very pleased” with his EKU Online experience. “Even at this stage in my life, it taught me things that transfer to the working world: commitment, time management, organization, prioritization, the list goes on. I have done well in the working world but, even now, returning to complete my degree taught me more useful skills and allowed me to tweak other skills. It was a learning experience beyond the coursework – which is what college should be and is meant to be.”

EKU offers a “one-stop shop” for adult learners via the Student Outreach and Transition Office.

“Adults who are interested in starting college for the first time or completing a degree they began long ago will find friendly encouraging staff who really go the extra mile to answer questions and address concerns,” said Lisa Cox, director of the Student Outreach and Transition Office and Project Graduate liaison for the University.

“We have several degree completion options for those who possess previous college credits,” Cox added. “Returning adults are often surprised at just how close they are to a degree. Our team works hard to maximize the how your previously earned credit can be applied toward a degree. We answer basic questions about applying for financial aid and academic bankruptcy for those who may have had some hiccups when they last attended school.”

Embarrassed or ashamed of past performance? Don’t be, Cox urged.

“Our adult learners often surprise themselves at how competent they can be at studies,” Cox said. “Adults and their life experiences add richness to the learning of others, bringing insights and broader perspectives to the discussions.”

For more information, visit soto.eku.edu/nontrad, email ekusoto@eku.edu or call 859-622-7686.

Published on July 07, 2017