When Jenna Henderson came to Lipscomb University in 2003 as a freshman from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, she had her mind set on pursuing an undergraduate degree in journalism.
But after a few years of writing and working on the student newspaper staff, Henderson felt called to pursue photography — a major not offered by Lipscomb. She transferred to a local art college and completed an Associate Degree in commercial digital photography.
“After graduating, I went straight to work running my own successful photography business,” Henderson recalls. “I have been self-employed full time since 2006. However, the time and credit I had put into my freshman and sophomore years at Lipscomb sat there, unused and unfinished.”
Her business continued to grow and thrive, and Henderson found herself busy keeping up with clients and her craft. Fast forward to 2017, when Henderson had a chance encounter that brought her college degree to mind. Henderson was on a photo shoot with an individual whose job is to connect adults with programs to help them finish their college degrees.
“We had attended Lipscomb together, and so she knew of my love for the university as well as my unfinished bachelor's degree,” says Henderson. “She mentioned Lipscomb’s Flex Pace program to me, and on a whim, I decided to make an appointment to speak to someone about the program.”
Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies offers a unique option for degree completion called FlexPACE (Personalized, Accessible, Coached, Experiential). The program gives students an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree online in organizational leadership with the flexibility often needed by working adults. The program begins with a one-day behavioral assessment through which students may earn up to 30 credits toward a bachelor’s degree based on their experience and knowledge.
Students then sign up for a six-month subscription term during which they can take as many courses and earn credit hours as they want for a flat fee of $6,000. All courses are offered online, with students participating in a weekly call or meeting with a faculty coach to keep students on track to complete their degree and to develop the in-demand skills employers are looking for.
Henderson is among five students who are the first to complete their bachelor’s degrees online through this innovative program and who will receive their degrees at commencement on Dec. 15.
“During my appointment, it was revealed to me how the program worked, with all the classes I would need to complete my degree available to me online at any time,” she says. “As someone who has spent an entire career working from home, this was especially appealing, because I'm already accustomed to a self-paced workflow. Then, when I learned about the Core Assessment Center and the potential to earn up to 30 hours in one day, I was sold. I applied and planned to begin on Feb. 1, 2018 to earn the 67 hours remaining for my bachelor's degree.”
Henderson got right to work once her term began and completed her first course in only eight days. She says she was “highly motivated by the flat rate tuition to complete as many courses as possible within each six month term, so that I could maximize the value of the program as well as avoid student loan debt.”
Then, the day came for Henderson to complete the College of Professional Studies’ CORE Competency Assessment Center. She earned the full 30 hours of college credit possible.
“That one day cut my work load nearly in half! With those 30 hours, it meant 37 hours of coursework is all that stood between me and my degree. I really dug in deep and set a goal to complete all of it one term. It wasn't easy, as the courses were robust, and I still run a business — not to mention I'm a wife and mother of two. But I put my mind to it, worked extremely hard, and by the beginning of July, I completed my final course, with time to spare before the term ended. I had done it: in under six months, I had completed and earned two full years of college credit,” Henderson says proudly.
She completed the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in August, and will officially receive her diploma at December commencement.
Henderson says completing her degree is very satisfying.
“I have an incredible feeling of accomplishment, both because something that was left unfinished is now complete, and because I was able to realize a difficult goal that many work long and hard for in such a short amount of time,” says Henderson. “I would highly recommend this program to anyone who is self-motivated and flourishes in an autonomous environment. And to anyone considering finishing their degree, I would simply quote the line, ‘A year from now, you'll wish you had started today.’ It's been almost a year exactly since my impulsive decision to make an appointment, and while there were some times it might have felt like I'd never be finished, in the blink of an eye, one whole year has passed and now I have a completed degree.”
A ‘huge stepping stone’
For Ryan Lawson of Nashville, completing his undergraduate degree was something bigger than himself.
Lawson is a senior network engineering at Dollar General Corporation, a husband, a father of two young children and a newly commissioned officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard. Though he had taken some college courses at ITT Technical Institute and Cochise College, Lawson had never completed his bachelor’s degree. But his commission in the National Guard gave Lawson was the tipping point for him to decide to pursue that goal.
What motivated me to pursue my degree was my commission as an officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard,” he recalls. “I wanted to continue my education not only for myself and my family, but also for my brothers and sisters in arms standing next to me knowing that they would depend on my skills as a leader.”
As an officer in the National Guard, Lawson often travels, making the traditional pursuit of a college degree impossible. But he discovered Lipscomb’s FlexPACE Program and knew that was the pathway for him to follow to complete his dream of a college degree.
“I chose the program because it allowed me the flexibility I needed to work at my own pace while being in multiple places all over the country,” Lawson says. “During my time in the program I was placed on Temporary Duty Assignment with the military, twice far away from Tennessee. So while attending college, I managed a full-time role as a network engineer, I was assigned as the S-6 (Communications/Information Technology Support) Officer in Charge of the 1-181st Field Artillery Battalion and juggled the role of being a father and husband to a very patient and understanding family. Yet I was still able to work with my professors to accomplish my goal and complete my degree from Lipscomb.”
Lawson, who began the program in Fall 2016 and completed his coursework in August, is also among the first students to complete bachelor’s degrees through FlexPACE. He will also receive his diploma at December commencement.
Working while attending college was challenging and “tested every ounce of my character,” he admits. But he quickly adds that once he figured out a time management routine he was ready to tackle the challenge before him.
And he enjoyed the learning experience on his schedule.
The flexibility in the program was great,” says Lawson. “Being able to take six-month blocks and to focus on one or two core classes to fully understand and digest the material while moving at my own pace throughout it were definite benefits for me.”
Completing his college degree is a life-changing experience for Lawson.
“This is a huge stepping stone for me in moving forward and progressing,” he says. “It has also opened up so many other opportunities for me not only in my military career but in my civilian career that would have been closed without it. I am proud to have achieved this accomplishment as a first-generation college student in my family.”
“I am paving the way for my children and setting an example for my peers and soldiers that no matter how old you are, or how much is on your plate,” Lawson continues. “If you think it and attempt it you can accomplish it. It brings to mind a quote from Zig Ziglar ‘The secret to getting ahead is getting started.’”
His experience at Lipscomb has been a positive one online and in person.
“Lipscomb was wonderful, everyone was so great. Even when showing up at campus I would get lost everywhere I went. Yet all of the students no matter where, would always point me in the right direction,” he recalls. He also credits Whitney Holland, program advisor in the College of Professional studies with “always being there to help guide and overcome no matter what the challenge or issue.”
Lawson says one of the biggest lessons learned through the experience that Lawson says he has already put into practice is one of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — Habit 3: Put first things, first. He uses it as encouragement to others who may be considering completing an undergraduate degree.
“Set a priority and order of what is important to you and follow through with effective discipline and see it through to the end,” he challenges. “Get it done. There will be challenges, there will be struggles.But focus on your end goal and overcome.”
Nina Morel, dean of the College of Professional Studies, says the milestone of the first FlexPACE students graduating is significant and they are pioneers who have played a key role in the development of the program.
"The FlexPACE program is very innovative for a traditional university, and these students and their feedback have been so important to our development of this program. We have learned that this is an especially effective way for highly driven and organized individuals to complete a degree in the least amount of time for the least amount of tuition,” says Morel.
“I am so proud of these students, because they worked hard to develop and demonstrate some very high level academic and leadership competencies. They have evidence, through their assessments and projects, not only that they know factual information, but that they have mastered the competencies their degree represents."
Lipscomb University's December Commencement for all undergraduates, master and doctoral candidates will be held on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. in Allen Arena. Watch the ceremony live at live.lipscomb.edu.