Jeff st new options
Martha Ahern attended nursing classes at the Jeff State campus on Valleydale Road as part of the New Options Program. She now works for Children’s Hospital. Photo by Kathryn Acree.
Many adults recognize the need to return to college later in life. Some stop working for many years to raise a family. Others face life-changing situations such as divorce or the death of a spouse. Still others find their current skills obsolete in a fast paced and ever-changing job market. Busy lives provide many excuses not to begin college, but the real obstacles are anxiety, doubt and fear.
To proactively address the need to help these students, Jefferson State began the New Options program in the early 1980s. It was originally funded by a federal grant to help displaced homemakers and under employed/under educated women get updated job skills to advance in the workforce.
The community college utilized federal grants to offer a series of free seminars to participants who met specific federal guidelines. Seminars addressed issues such as admissions, financial aid, major selection and scholarships.
“Adults sometimes don’t understand that it doesn’t matter what kind of student they were at 17 years old,” said New Options Administrator Ann Fulmer. “They are a different person now with a new perspective on life. Many students realize they can do the work and actually thrive in college classes.”
The program was a success from the beginning. Many of the women who participated were able to update job skills by taking a few classes, complete two-year degrees and transfer to four-year colleges and universities. After a few years, when federal programs were no longer available, community members provided funding during a transition period. Jefferson State currently funds the program, and it is supplemented by grants and donations used for textbooks and scholarships.
Today, the New Options program is offered at each campus, including their Shelby-Hoover Campus off Valleydale Road. In addition to the seminars, the program also provides a textbook lending service to participants allowing costly textbooks to be borrowed each semester.
The success of New Options is obvious by the success of participants, both academically and personally. Participants have received the confidence needed for college and completed associate degrees in numerous fields such as nursing, hospitality management and office administration.
“I was very unsure of myself,” said New Options graduate Martha Ahern, who attended classes at the Shelby-Hoover Campus. “They encouraged me and gave me the confidence I needed to go forward with my dream of graduating from college.”
After years as a stay-at-home mom and then a new grandmother, Ahern enrolled in classes just before she and her husband divorced. “My husband provided our only source of income. College became so much more than my dream; it became necessary for my survival,” Ahern said.
She needed financial assistance to continue college. Once again, the New Options program was there to provide guidance and support. “They found grants, loans and scholarships, and encouraged me all the way,” said Ahern.
Today Ahern is a proud graduate of Jefferson State’s nursing program and employed as a NICU nurse at Children’s Hospital. “I know I make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. My job skills empower me to fully support myself financially for the first time in my life.”
David Bobo is the Director of Community and Media Relations for Jefferson State Community College. For more information on the New Options program, visit www.jeffstateonline.com/newoptions.