Wednesday, June 3, 2009

She took 40 years off

The Seattle Times reports today that 41 percent of state students don't finish college in six years. The statistics are debatable, but it is certain that people sometimes have to delay college. That's where WSU Online comes in, letting students earn a degree on their own schedules, and from their own homes.

Here's the story of one student who is taking more than 40 years to earn her degree:

The last time Gini Woodward attended Washington State University, tuition was $52.50 a semester. Students also had to pony up a $2 auto registration fee, and everyone got dinged $7 for a damage deposit. It was 1968, one year before students risked those $7 deposits by holding antiwar sit-ins at the new French Administration Building.
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Woodward had nearly completed her home economics degree. Instead, she got married, left WSU, and moved to Anacortes with her husband, Mike.
“I started having babies and never finished my schooling,” said Woodward, 61. “There was always this sense of guilt because I hadn’t finished it.”
Mike worked for Texaco and, after leaving Anacortes, the Woodwards moved to Vancouver, Washington; Sandpoint, Idaho; then, in 1977, about 30 miles north to Bonners Ferry, a city of 2,500 on the Kootenai River.
“Because I didn’t have a degree, I didn’t think I could get a job,” Woodward said. So she started a store (Gini Knits) that sold fabric and yarn and knitting machines. Business was good. She traveled across the country, teaching about knitting machines. She had employees and a line of patterns. Gradually, though, the home knitting machine industry “kind of collapsed on itself,” Woodward said.
The industry’s decline coincided with Woodward’s 1996 melanoma diagnosis, and she began to re-evaluate her priorities. She closed her store in 2000 so she could spend more time with family and pursue other interests. Besides her family responsibilities (aging parents, two grown children, two grandchildren), she’s on the board of the Boundary County Historical Society, teaches a family education program for a national mental health organization, and writes a weekly article for the Boundary County Digest. But, in the back of her mind was the thought that she’d never completed her university education. “It was like a big old unfinished project.”
While looking up a friend on WSU’s Web site, she came across Distance Degree Programs. “I said ‘Whoa!’ I realized I could finish my degree.”
Woodward enrolled in DDP in 2006. “Lifelong education is important,” she said, “and with perhaps a third of my life left to live I am grateful for the personal growth DDP learning is providing.”
Woodward’s academic advisor, Craig Stephens, was impressed by her dedication. “She was determined to finish what she had started at WSU years before,” he said.
About 5 percent of DDP students are over 50. In the online arena, age is invisible; only intelligence matters. That rewards maturity, while enriching the academic experience for students such as Woodward.
“It is such an opportunity as an adult, with a lot of life experience under my belt, to go back and study,” she said. “I get more out of it than I did when I was 18.”
Another thing has changed since Woodward was 18. The home ec academic major has gone the way of $52.50 tuition and “Clean for Gene” college students. Woodward is now majoring in social sciences, with a concentration in philosophy.
Are there any job openings for philosophers in Bonners Ferry?
“It’s not about income, it’s about learning,” Woodward said, philosophically. “Besides, I’ll probably be on Social Security by the time I get my degree.”

Story by Richard H. Miller/Center for Distance and Professional Education

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