BY ANDREW BLOM // APRIL 3, 2012 // 

A traditional Curry student finds time to balance school, video games, late-night munchies and partying with friends. But what if a career and a family were thrown into the mix? You don’t really know being busy until you meet a continuing education student.

Here at Curry, it’s not hard to find one so long as you’re around campus after 4 p.m. Between the Milton and Plymouth campuses, approximately 1,400 students are enrolled in the college’s Continuing Education Program, as of early March. Since its creation in 1991, that number has varied each semester because, unlike traditional students, continuing ed students come and go, often taking just one or perhaps two courses per session, according to Ruth Sherman, dean of Continuing Education and Graduate Studies. That said, the program has grown mightily through the years and is not too far from surpassing the college’s traditional undergraduate enrollment of approximately 1,850.

Sherman said the main reasons people return to college are to gain new skills after being laid off from a job, to facilitate the change of a career, or simply because they have more time and money once their own children are grown.

Although the state is no longer required to fund salary increases for police officers who gain additional college education, some cities have maintained the incentive program. Rich Brown, from Cambridge, is working toward his bachelor’s in criminal justice. // PHOTO BY ANDREW BLOM

“There are many walks of life here who want to travel different educational paths,” added Sherman.

Steven Belaief, senior director of continuing education for the Milton campus, said he’s seen students from ages 18 to 80. The average age is approximately 35, with slightly more females than males overall.

“They work, they might have a family, they might have two jobs,” said Belaief. “Still, they’re just trying to get here on a Tuesday night to go to class so they can get their degree.”

The CE program currently offers bachelor’s degrees in eight majors, including communication, criminal justice, management and nursing, which has seen the most growth in recent years, accounting for more than a third of enrollment, according to Belaief. Many licensed nurses have returned to college for a baccalaureate degree, which is required by more hospitals for initial hire or for nurses to retain their positions.

Uda Allen-Gunter, who enrolled in Curry’s continuing ed program last spring, is among those working toward a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing. She already holds an associate’s degree in nursing and computer science. Allen-Gunter said she chose to attend Curry in part because of its history of personalized instruction.

“Most colleges do hybrid courses, but I like face-to-face interaction,” she said. “The classes are designed toward learning and applying it to your career, and not just coming to class.”

Erika Martinez, who will be graduating next year with a degree in public health, said the program has given her more confidence professionally. And she wouldn’t want to see it shift to online or hybrid courses.

“If I can read a book at home or copy chapters from a PowerPoint,” she said, “why am I even paying? My professors aren’t robots and they try to help you succeed.”

According to Sherman, Curry’s continuing ed program benefits from its close proximity to Boston, a major metropolitan city that boasts numerous industries. “The continuing ed student is focused on where there are jobs, primarily,” said Belaief, “which causes the CE program to balance out each year.”

This has been the case with Curry’s criminal justice program. Since 1970, Massachusetts law has allowed police officers to earn salary increases of up to 25 percent with additional education. The Quinn Bill, as it became commonly known, encouraged police officers to earn associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law enforcement and criminal justice. However, with the state recently facing major budget deficits, it opted to no longer fund its share of the salary increases.

In March of this year, the Massachusetts Judicial Supreme Court ruled that neither the state nor local communities are required to automatically fund the cost of the bill.

Curry benefited mightily from the Quinn Bill, with officers from the Boston Police Department in particular pursuing additional education at the college. Without the salary incentive, however, enrollment has declined.

Yet, according to Belaief, that’s the beauty of continuing education. When one program dips, another tends to take off for any number of reasons.

“In our industry, continuing education is a recession-proof business,” said Belaief. “When the economy is bad, people go back to school.”

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