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It’s never too late

A Utah mom of three shares why she’s returning to the U more than 20 years after she started and describes the program that helped make it happen.

The last time Steffanie Robinson was in school she was in her early 20s and studying nursing. Now, about 25 years later, she’s returning to the U to finish what she started—except in a very different field of study.

“I’m really interested in academic advising, so my plan is to go through a program in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies,” said Robinson. “I’ll start classes this spring and hope to finish in about a year and a half.”

Steffanie Robinson is returning to the U more than 20 years after she started to finish her degree.

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Robinson will return to the U during the same semester that one of her three daughters will graduate from the U. She also has another daughter attending Weber State and a 15-year-old still at home.

“When I was first going to school, I changed majors a few times, got married, had kids, raised my kids and all of a sudden more than 20 years had gone by,” said Robinson. “Now my kids are grown and don’t need me to be home all the time, so I want to set a good example and show them that it’s never too late to accomplish something you’ve always wanted to do.”

Robinson’s education trajectory may not be what many define as traditional, but it’s certainly not uncommon. The Department of Continuing Education & Engagement (CECE) has more than 30 students each semester who take part in their Return to the U program. Adult learners who have stopped out of the U and want to finish their degree or have transferred from other institutions are offered a robust support network and more flexible options.

“We’ve had students who are just one class short of finishing their degree and they’re working full time, they’re raising children and the idea of finding transcripts or trying to dig up their high school GPA from decades ago is just overwhelming,” said Kurt Guner, adult learner program coordinator with CECE. “Return to the U has allowed us to create different pathways through certain majors and help returning students navigate the college process that probably looks much different from when they first entered into higher education.”

The team behind Return to the U wants everyone who is considering finishing their degree to know they don’t have to do it alone and they should feel proud to continue their education instead of feeling guilty they didn’t finish the first time around.

“We hear from a lot of students who are embarrassed to be coming back after all this time and we really want to encourage them and help them feel empowered to complete their degrees instead,” said Kate Barnabas, account executive with CECE. “We feel that the most expensive degree is the one that you never finish because you may have built up a bunch of debt without finishing what you started. We want to help them across that finish line.”

The Return to the U program can help students complete more classes away from the main campus including online or at the Sandy Center. They also offer specialized advisors who serve as the returning student’s main contact for any questions they may have about earning their degree.

“I was a little bit nervous about the process but the Return to the U program has made it so easy,” said Robinson. “I wasn’t sure how many of my credits would transfer since it had been so long and I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to study. My advisor, Theresa Pratt, was very helpful in narrowing down which program made the most sense and connecting me with the right people to help me map out a plan.”

Financial aid is another concern Guner and Barnabas said they hear a lot about from prospective returning students. They work hard to forgive account holds and offer scholarships with help from the parent fund.

For those students interested in having their own cohort and networking opportunities, Guner said they are working on revitalizing their chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honors Society for adult learners. They hope to plan family nights and other events to bring returning students together.

While Robinson’s daughters were instrumental in her decision to return to the U, she said it’s the program that has made it a simple, exciting process.

“It feels doable now,” said Robinson. “The people at the U have been very encouraging and I feel like they’re my cheerleaders.”

Applications for spring semester are due Nov. 1. If someone you know is thinking about returning to the U, send them here for more information on the application process and scholarship opportunities.