At 42, Geoff Barber was tired of his “going nowhere” job. His salary hadn’t budged since 1991, and he saw no opportunity for advancement.
So in August of 2010, he enrolled in Metropolitan College at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, committing himself to earning the degree that had eluded him before.
It was something he had wanted to do for years. “I was in college, but I never received a degree,” Barber says. “Now I’m finally getting it done.”
Zenobia Edwards, dean of Metropolitan College, hears that from many students. “Their reasons for dropping out in the first place vary, but they often have the same reason for returning,” she says. “They’re determined to start the climb up.”
‘This is a Dream’
With a grant from The Duke Endowment, Johnson C. Smith launched Metropolitan College in 2009 as a way to help adults enhance their opportunities for career advancement and success.
Students are typically 25 or older and out of high school for at least five years. Year-round courses, offered on-campus and online, provide an accelerated schedule for degrees in Criminology, Social Work and Business Administration. Most students attend classes at night and work, at least part time, during the day.
Nikefa Salter, 38, enrolled in August of 2010 to earn a degree in social work. “I have two jobs, recently got married and I have three children,” she says. “I needed something very flexible.”
She works in Alumni Affairs at Johnson C. Smith from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, attends Metropolitan College classes from 5:30-10:40 p.m., and pulls a shift at a 24-hour call center from 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. She’s home on weekends, and catches a few winks of sleep between her first and second jobs.
Classmates say she runs on batteries.
“But this is a dream of mine,” Salter says. “I’ve been trying to get my degree on and off since graduation from high school in 1992 and I’ve always had to start over for various reasons. This time, I’m refusing to give up.”
With her current grade point average, she’s on track to graduate with honors.
New Program, New Challenges
The idea behind Metropolitan College was to open the campus at night for adult students who needed flexible options for finishing their degrees. Johnson C. Smith, a historically black university, hoped to provide a service for the community and, at the same time, attract more students – and possibly create a more diverse campus population.
But with the new opportunity came new challenges. Metropolitan College students attend classes at night, so they need lighted parking lots and access to a snack bars and bookstores after normal business hours.
“We didn’t want to give the message that we’re just tacking this on, that it’s an afterthought,” Edwards says. “We wanted them to know that we’re being intentional about what we’re doing. We wanted to send the message that this is an important part of Johnson C. Smith.”
When Metropolitan College opened, Johnson C. Smith already had 11 adult students on campus taking classes on a traditional schedule. For Metropolitan College’s first term, about 15 students enrolled – and the number has grown steadily since.
Some 150 adult students now take evening classes through the college, and school officials have added faculty and staff to keep pace with demand.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve so far,” Edwards says. “We’re working hard to grow our numbers each term.”
Geoff Barber will finish a degree in criminology this summer. Even though he left college 20 years ago, he found it felt great to become a student again, especially with people his own age.
“The first time I went to college, tuition kept getting more expensive, so I joined the military,” he says. “I went to Somalia and other places. When I came back home, I was worried about getting back into the flow of life. I started working, even though I didn’t have a career.”
His schedule takes stamina – he attends classes from 5-10 p.m. and works as a security officer from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. – but he believes a degree will open doors and set a good example for his 12-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
“My daughter and I do our homework together,” he says. “It’s not easy, but I’m showing my kids that it’s better late than never.”
Nikefa Salter agrees.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for any person who’s focused on getting an education,” she says. “It’s hard to juggle work and home and school, and people tell me I need to slow down. But I’m enjoying life by pursuing my dream.”
Susan L. McConnell
Associate Director, Higher Education