I found out recently from a friend that Emerson College had decided to eliminate their Adult Degree Program. I was really saddened to hear about it, in part because my first real professional job was coordinating that program, but also because know it means a loss of opportunity for a population of students I really came to admire in my time there. Even as I left Emerson three years ago, though, the handwriting was on the wall.
I spent the two years while I was coordinator increasing enrollment in the program, doubling it to around 250 students, and helping them to get access to courses offered by the traditional departments in addition to our night classes. It ultimately turned out to be too much of a good thing, making the program too visible, and the administration became concerned that these night students were getting “the same” education as the day students at a substantially reduced rate, which they didn’t feel they could justify.
The adult students were getting the same degree as the traditional students (Emerson is one of the few places that didn’t create an artificial “night school” degree), but any of them could have told you that the value of a bachelor’s degree earned at thirty-five is substantially different from one earned at twenty-one. I doubt any of the traditional students would have chosen to trade ten years for the lower rate. In fact, if I recall correctly, the rule was a traditional student could enter the evening program if they sat out a year, and I can’t recall a single instance of this happening.
What has remained with me from the very early days of my time there, though, was the real value the students placed on getting their degrees, even if it might only make incremental improvements in their earning potential. The students really valued the opportunity to study and learn, and battled through every imaginable life obstacle to complete their degrees. This understanding of the importance of education to not just career but to human dignity has profoundly influenced my belief in the importance of opening up educational opportunity. The end of this program marks a real, if unrecognized, loss to the Emerson Community.