If you're a so-called nontraditional student (that is, over the age of 24 with the responsibilities to match) and want to complete your degree or earn a more career-specific one, professional studies programs might be for you.
Many colleges and universities are taking what used to be called continuing education/adult education departments and redefining them to meet the needs of today's adult students looking for a degree.
The term "professional studies" reflects the professional focus of the offerings, and also the idea that adult students don't need or want the traditional bachelor's programs geared toward 18-year-olds just starting out. They want a more focused degree, and they want it faster.
"Our roots trace back to 1966, when we were a college of continuing education and also served veterans," says Greg Buckley, interim dean of Roosevelt University's Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies. "Several years ago we changed our name to better reflect our evolving mission and students." There are about 1,200 professional studies students enrolled each semester, he says.
Roosevelt's College of Professional Studies offers 19 degrees. Popular majors include business, hospitality and tourism management, paralegal, and criminal justice. Graduates earn a BPS, which is Bachelor of Professional Studies in the applicable field.
What makes a professional studies degree different from a four-year Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts? "Primarily the focus on proficiency in the major," Buckley says. "The professional studies degree is designed to teach professional skill plus the critical thinking and research ability of a traditional bachelor's degree."
Professional studies degrees take less time to earn because students take fewer electives.
"We still require experience in the traditional liberal arts areas but we teach those differently," he explains. "They take interdisciplinary seminars in the humanities and social sciences instead of taking one whole course on European history."
Many students come into professional studies programs with an associate degree, or have prior college credits from years past. Most are working, so courses are primarily offered in the evening and online.
Maria Cancilla, 43, a Chicago dance teacher, fits the profile of the adult learner that professional studies programs attract. Cancilla started college at Roosevelt back in 2000, when the software company she worked for offered tuition reimbursement. "Then I was laid off and lost the tuition reimbursement, so I had to stop," she says.
This spring, Cancilla began working toward a degree in sustainability studies at Roosevelt.
"After about 10 years of teaching dance, I looked into something different because I was not sure my body could do this too many more years, and I also wanted to make more money," she says. Cancilla found the program through a career counseling program for dancers. "I have always had an interest in sustainability practices, especially surrounding food," she says.
Cancilla jumped right in this spring with two classes, one of which took place on an urban farm. This summer she is taking a humanities course online. "That is the beauty of the professional studies program," she says.
Her dream is to blend her experience working with children and sustainability, particularly in the area of urban agriculture outreach. "I want to work with kids to get their hands in the dirt and help them grow their own food," she says.
Elmhurst College launched its School for Professional Studies in July. "The most important aspect of the School for Professional Studies is that it is not an unrelated appendage, but is intertwined into the fabric of Elmhurst College," says Dean Timothy Ricordati. "This brings together under one umbrella all the adult programs, graduate and accelerated undergraduate, plus certificate programs and corporate training."
Popular professional studies majors include business, nursing (particularly the RN to BSN program), information technology, and computer information systems.
The new school is part of the college's push toward a more online experience, Ricordati says. The goal is to make the whole college online, including coursework, records, advising, counseling and financial aid.Ricordati notes that the fastest growing segment of adult learners will be 45-55-year-old workers, and Elmhurst wants to serve them. "This is really a school for busy people," he says.