Back to school
With new University of Phoenix and Brown Mackie College campuses in Tulsa, adults have more options for furthering their education on their terms.
You could buy shirts there. Shoes, too. But that was before the store closings, the remodeling, the new tenants. Now, the only evidence Mervyns once occupied the space is an escalator that takes visitors to a higher floor for higher education.
The University of Phoenix, housed in the former Eastland Mall/current Eastgate Metroplex at 14002 E. 21st St., replaced the clothes racks with computer stations, the jewelry counter with a refreshment bar and the fitting room with private meeting areas.
The one aspect left unchanged is the customer-driven service. College has gotten a makeover.
Instead of students adapting their life to an academic schedule, the academic schedule for adult continuing education in Tulsa has become flexible. This isn’t Ivy League stodginess but progressiveness — making degree achievement possible for students of any age, at any level, with any time requirements to go from start to finish.
“It’s not about enrollment. It’s all about graduation,” says Lori Santiago, vice president of the University of Phoenix for Oklahoma. The Tulsa campus opened its new location in January, with a second Learning Center that opened in Owasso in February.
Adult continuing education has evolved, creating a campus life that eases the time, family and job concerns of returning to school. Students spoke and academia listened.
“School does not have to be a roadblock,” says Denise Choquette, president of Brown Mackie College-Tulsa, which opened in fall 2008 at 4608 S. Garnett Road and is one of 21 locations nationwide. “We have a steady class schedule that you can plan your work schedule and family life around.”
Students at Brown Mackie College take one class per month, meeting three times a week from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. or 6-10 p.m., and focus on one discipline at a time. Instead of waiting to start school at the beginning of a semester, the monthly course schedule means new enrollees can start classes at the beginning of any month, according to what suits them.
“After losing my job of four years, I decided it was time,” says D’Juania Stearns, a 36-year-old married mother of four now enrolled at Brown Mackie. “I was thinking about going back to school, but I could not see how to fit it in.”
With layoffs increasing, downsizing on the upswing and competition in the workplace heightening, additional education may be the difference between steady employment and unemployment. That was the choice given to Susan Rice.
“My hours gradually got lower and lower due to the economic times,” says Rice, who worked for a home loans closing company.
When her hours decreased from 40 per week to eight, Rice knew she needed a change.
“I wanted to work in an environment where I have more stability,” Rice says. “And I knew education is very important, so I started looking at going back to college.”
She eventually applied and was hired as a University of Phoenix enrollment counselor, through which she assists new students. She starts classes for a master’s in business this fall.
The classes are held one night a week from 6-10 p.m. for five weeks, and equate to three credit hours, which over a year adds up to full-time status. Students also have access to free tutors and the 2,800-square-foot rEsource Center, which features wireless Internet, computer hubs, individual meeting rooms, a refreshment bar, an online library and a staffed research room, all set in an energetic, modern ’70s motif.
Classrooms are equipped with wall-mounted, interactive plasma displays, all powered and controlled by the instructor at a multimedia podium. The University of Phoenix also offers classes such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Dress for Success seminars and others, which are free to students and will be open to the public soon.
Remaining relevant in the current unsteady business environment means paying attention to the community and students and adjusting classes and hours accordingly, Choquette says. She says Brown Mackie relies partly on a Program Advisory Committee comprising local businessmen and women from various industries, who help review the curriculum so that it encompasses the needs of the community.
“We are a college for the Tulsa and surrounding area,” Choquette says. “We have the ability to help that city where it’s needed.”
Set to graduate in 2011 with a degree in accounting from Brown Mackie, Stearns says she is not only equipping herself with more tools for the workforce, but she also is an inspiration to her children.
“Two months ago I got an ‘A’ in a professional development class,” she says. “My son, Tre, was like, ‘Wow, you can make an ‘A.’ I told him, ‘You can if you study.’ I want to be a good example to my older children, to let them know you can make it with a little motivation and hard work.”