Archive for Sunday, January 6, 2013

Getting degree while working full time a balancing act

January 6, 2013


These days, Celeste Neubauer of Olathe describes her life as a balancing act.

She’s married with two children, 12 and 15 years old. She also works full time as a paraprofessional in the Olathe school district.

On top of all that, she’s carrying a full load of night classes at Johnson County Community College.

“It’s extremely busy, but with my husband’s support and the kids being a little older, it’s helped,” said Neubauer, 42. “It’s allowed me to stay in school full time.”

Neubauer said over the years she had taken some college classes “here and there,” and had always planned to eventually get a college degree. But she didn’t start putting that plan into action until 2009.

“My kids were getting older, and I knew that I was going to need something to do,” she said of why she enrolled in the 2+2 program at JCCC.

The program, in a partnership with Emporia State University, allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education through ESU while attending classes on the JCCC campus.

Now a junior, Neubauer said she enjoys going to class and doesn’t mind being older than many of her classmates.

“I think it’s up to each individual to connect with these kids,” she said, adding that, actually, it’s not so uncommon anymore “for the young kids to go to school with the older students.”

Neubauer’s goals are to become a kindergarten teacher, and maybe even to earn a master’s degree. And she has a different perspective on college now than she did when she was younger. After all, she said, she’s got more on the line.

“This is my livelihood,” she said. “It’s my kids’ livelihood. It’s my future.”

There’s also the matter of one day being able to pay off her education, all of which has been financed with student loans, Neubauer said. Beginning next fall, she’s got a year of student teaching, as well, where she won’t be able to work more than part time. 

It’s “a major financial stress,” Neubauer said. “Because the education system is so unstable, and it’s almost frozen, and if you don’t have your foot in the door somewhere in some districts, they’re not going to look at you to hire you.”

Ultimately, though, all the stress of attending college is worth it, Neubauer said. She’s even got some advice to share with other adults with families who may be interested in pursuing college but are hesitant to take the leap.

“Start it. Just start it,” she said. “You gotta jump in somewhere. Start something, and go slow if you need to. But definitely do it.” 

Education online

Brian Bolen, 32, of Shawnee, works on his laptop with the “help” of his children, Coleen, 1, and Daniel, 2. After two layoffs, Bolen is working on earning a degree online through Johnson County Community College.

Brian Bolen, 32, of Shawnee, works on his laptop with the “help” of his children, Coleen, 1, and Daniel, 2. After two layoffs, Bolen is working on earning a degree online through Johnson County Community College.

Also taking classes through JCCC, but via a different route, is Brian Bolen of Shawnee. The husband and stay-at-home father of two toddlers is earning his degree online.

“It’s a situation where, in this metro area, you cannot get a job without a four-year degree,” Bolen, 32, said.

After graduating high school in 1999, Bolen took a semester of college at Emporia State University. But he dropped out, he said, because he was also working full time as a customer service manager and information technology analyst at a phone company in Emporia, where he originally is from. 

“I had a career, or what I thought was my career, and so I didn’t need that college degree,” he recalled thinking at the time.

But in 2006, he got laid off, and he went through another layoff from Sprint in 2009. He’s been a stay-at-home dad ever since, but in a few years his children will be heading off to school themselves and he’s “ready to move back to a career.”

In the competitive Kansas City market, that would take a college diploma, Bolen decided. He began taking online classes through JCCC last semester. He wants to do something with computers, but he’s not sure yet what degree he’ll choose, so right now he said he’s focusing on getting some general education classes out of the way.

“Oh, it’s great,” he said of how school is going. “It’s not a struggle so far.”

Online classes offer him the flexibility he needs with two young children in tow. He said he gets some reading done while his son and daughter take their afternoon naps and then gets the bulk of the work done at night after his wife, Debbie, gets home from her job at Hallmark’s corporate office in Kansas City, Mo. 

“It’s the only way I can pull it off scheduling-wise,” he said. “I’m not tied to a schedule, a daily time frame.”

Bolen said he plans to earn his degree completely online, taking two years through JCCC and then earning a bachelor’s degree through ESU. He’ll be watching his kids at the same time, which he enjoys doing — though he admits to getting a little stir crazy from time to time.

“Especially in the winter; the winter’s the worst. But that’s another reason I decided to take classes,” he said. “In the winter around the house, you just sit. So it’s one of those deals where it’s a better use of my time.”


James Minor 5 years, 5 months ago

I did it and it was difficult at times, but the resutls were great. I could not have completed the process without the help of my family and some luck. Having a plan on how to complete the courseload is important. One thing is you can't expect the family every time to change their lives because you are going back and getting a degree. You have to be flexible just like they have to be. Communication must be strong on working family and school life, because your kids and wife still want you to be active in their school and social affairs.

irussell 5 years, 5 months ago

I can relate - was married with 3 children, 16, 13 & 12 and working full time when I went to KU - couldn't have done it without the help of my husband. Sometimes I wondered if it was worth the sacrifices for the family, but I have seen all 3 of my children get their degrees, and they may not have had they not experienced it themselves.

Amber Cottrell 5 years, 5 months ago

I know the feeling! I'm 23 taking an average of 18 hrs/ semester, working full time and a part time job on top of all that! Getting an education is very valuable these days! Keep up the good work!

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