Sacrificing leisure for study

By Heather Condley Record-Courier staff writer Published:

That was on a Wednesday. Two days later, the Hiram resident was enrolled in the Hiram Weekend College program, from which he graduated in 1991.

The first program of its kind in Ohio, the Weekend College has been giving non-traditional students the opportunity to pursue a degree by attending classes from Friday evenings through Sunday mornings every other weekend since 1977. College officials are now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the program and its 1,200 graduates.

"This program works well for the salesmen who travel and who have families because it's every other weekend. The students like the flexibility, the convenience and the quality," said Jane Preston Rose, dean of the college. "Students say they can (complete the program) here faster than other places because we have a two-part semester, and they can take three courses a semester without having to take them all at once."

Rose was referring to the college's unique academic schedule for both traditional and non-traditional students called the Hiram Plan, which splits each semester into a 12-week session of classes followed by a three-week intensive session of classes.

The weekend college enrolls nearly 350 students a semester who are looking to earn bachelor of arts degrees in business management, communications, social sciences, humanities and fine arts, allied health, and religious studies. Rose said.

Students in the program are required to complete at least 120 semester hours, at $319 per credit hour, 60 of which must be completed at Hiram. In addition to taking classes for their major, students also must take a certain number of general requirements and elective courses, just like traditional students.

When the program began, most of the students enrolled were women who grew up in a time when it wasn't common for them to go to college. Now, Rose said the typical students are males and females in their 30s and 40s who have done well professionally but have hit a "glass ceiling."

"These people have done well, but they need to complete their education to move on," she said.

Because of this, the college has created partnerships with several local companies that sometimes finance all or part of an employee's education.

"We have a good relationship with several area companies like Goodyear (in Akron), Robinson Memorial Hospital (in Ravenna) and Mantaline in Mantua. These are companies that value education," Rose said. "They see that it's important to have communication skills, plus it really helps companies attract well-qualified employees."

The program is also geared toward younger students who began a part-time education at another institution and for some reason could not finish there, Rose said.

What Blazy and most of the students enrolled in the program like and appreciate about it is that they have the opportunity to earn their degrees while going through a "true" college experience, which includes staying on campus overnight.

"One thing I found out was that the classes that I hadn't ever taken were the best," said Blazy, whose son is currently a sophomore at Hiram. "I took a geology class and a theater class, and I hadn't ever seen a play before. I really learned to enjoy it. (The program) really exposes you to things that you haven't been exposed to before." Blazy's wife, Sharon, graduated from Hiram as a Weekend College student in 1994.

The program makes it easy for students who have never experienced college life by offering a "one-stop shopping" type of program, unlike what can be found at a larger university. The Weekend College office does everything from admissions to registration to advising and counseling.

"You don't have to run around, and we get to know all of our students," Rose said.

In addition to the convenience, one of the other selling points of the program is the support students receive, not only from professors and administrators, but from each other.

"My best friends came from that program because we all had the same common goals," Blazy said. "When I went to Hiram, I wasn't just a social security number, I was a person. I felt important, part of the school _ and I still do. I had never experienced that before."

Blazy said that for him, waiting to go to college was probably the best decision for him.

"It was by far better that I waited. Maturity wise, you make a decision

and stand by it. I wasn't doing it because mom and dad sent me, I did it

because I wanted to," he said. "The best way to describe it is as a

dream that never really stopped. This was something that wasn't four

years and out, it is almost like four years and life."

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