Students tailor degrees

by Justin Costley

Although they might not realize it, students at the University can design the requirements of their own degree program.
Don’t like foreign language? Don’t put it in your program. Want to travel to India? Pencil it in just after the composition requirement.
To take advantage, students need to enroll in the Program for Individualized Learning. The program offers a bachelor’s degree through the College of Liberal Arts that allows students to design their own requirements.
“This program gives people an opportunity to use their life experiences toward a degree if they can show they learned something from it,” said program director Mary Sue Simmons.
Students in the program have a wide variety of degrees to choose from. Some of the specialized degrees students have chosen in the past range from environmental communication to family systems in the health sciences.
Founded in 1971, the program enrolls about 150 to 200 students per year, ranging in age from 19 to 69 years old.
“We appeal to students who typically want to attend part time, or who want some flexibility. Our students have a real passion about what they want to do in school,” said Betsy Leach, an academic adviser for the program.
Upon admission, students design their own degree program with the help of a faculty mentor from their area of study and an academic adviser from the individualized learning program.
Throughout the program, students must meet graduation criteria such as individualized study projects, a major project and course work at the University or another institution.
Leach said students in the individualized degree program have closer interactions with their advisers than traditional students.
“I deal with students from the time that they are prospective students until they graduate,” Leach said. “We have less of a student load, so I have a lot more of a one-on-one relationship.”
Brooke Nelson, 35, of Minneapolis, graduated June 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in leadership with extended studies in communications.
The University College recommended the program to Nelson, who was looking for a more flexible degree.
“This degree is great because it allows people to pursue interests they have had all along, while still putting something together in terms of a degree,” Nelson said.
Nelson said she enjoyed the part of her independent studies that included spending a month in India.
“I really like the unexpected things I learned. The independent study I did for my degree allowed me to work with leaders in their fields,” she said.
University students can reach the program at (612) 624-4020.