For the Love of Learning Going Back to School Has Never Been Easier

For most adults, summer is the time to indulge in leisure activities and outdoor events, Blue skies hover above us, and with the warm air comes the urge to soak up the rays, head for the lake, or relax on the patio of a favorite restaurant. Paul Ochel, like many of us, is enjoying this summer with trips to the Ballpark in Arlington and poolside barbecues with friends. However, Paul’s agenda is dominated primarily by an activity less associated with warm weather: going to class.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, while many adults are heading home after a long day of work, Paul heads for The University of Dallas in Irving, where he’s working toward his MBA. Throughout the week, while most of us collapse on the sofa to watch evening shows, Paul is diligently poring over textbooks-either to the classroom or the library-so that he can master the intricacies of Financial Accounting and Legal Environment. A 28-year-old graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Paul’s career as a commercial real estate broker in Dallas is secure. He doesn’t really need to go to school-an MBA won’t procure a raise or promotion yet he has committed himself to a year-round rotation of classes, a goal that will take about three years. Why?

“To better understand the business arena,” Paul answers. “Who knows? I might want to open my own business someday. With this additional education, I will be better prepared to start or run a company,” Paul adds. “Plus, it’s always fun to learn concepts that apply to everyday experiences.”

Paid is not alone in his quest for knowledge. More and more, adults of all ages are recognizing the importance of, and enjoyment in, nurturing their hobbies and interests, whether their goals are personal or professional. In addition to The University of Dallas, scattered throughout the area are dozens of colleges, universities, and community colleges. Whether at SMU, TCU, El Centra, or Southwestern Medical School, adults of all ages and backgrounds are discovering that multiple programs exist to accommodate their busy schedules.

For some graduate students who work, school location is crucial to making a Masters Degree a reality. Southern Methodist University’s “SMU-in-Legacy” is a welcome addition to graduate students living or working in North Dallas who don’t have the time to battle traffic on Central Expressway or the Dallas North Tollway. SMU-in-Legacy, located in Piano’s Legacy Park business community, offers master’s degree programs, as well as noncredit courses for professional advancement or personal enrichment. Courses from all of the SMU Dallas campus schools, including the nationally acclaimed Cox School of Business and the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, are available.

Besides the traditional evening classes offered throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth the area, other methods of learning are catching the attention of time-crunched individuals. Among these options are weekend programs and “distance learning” programs.

For the truly disciplined and ambitious individual, Dallas Baptist University has a weekend college program, which is part of the university’s College of Adult Education. The program offers courses in majors leading to an undergraduate degree in business administration or management, as well as graduate courses in business, that can be completed entirely during weekends.

Distance learning uses technology to facilitate the interaction between instructors and students separated geographically and allows students to attend classes off campus in a variety of ways. SMU’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) offers three primary distance-learning techniques, often utilised by corporations, for graduate students to obtain credit in areas such as telecommunications, systems engineering, and hazardous and waste materials management: The TAGER television network of North Texas, the NTU (National Technological University) satellite system, and The Videotape Program. SMU, mostly through SEAS, broadcasts more than 40 graduate-level courses each semester to approximately 60 classrooms at 11 companies in the area, As a result, part-time students can view and complete graduate-level courses while at work or at any other designated off-campus site.

Schools in other cities also offer multiple courses that are accessible to adults in Dallas-Fort Worth through programs in which students complete written assignments and receive instruction from a distance learning instructor. Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, offers programs in areas such as law and home inspection. Participants in the real estate licensure program, for example, can complete courses that apply toward requirements for the Texas real estate brokers and salesman’s licenses. Texas Tech also offers, through distance learning, continuing education and non-credit courses on subjects such as creative and autobiographical writing.

Schools such as the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Baylor College of Dentistry appeal to adults who have redefined their career goals or wish to advance their careers. At UT Southwestern in Dallas, the oldest member of the Class of 1998 is a 45-year-old former electrical engineer. UT Southwestern also has programs for non-physician careers: STARS-Science Teacher Access to Resources-helps middle and high school science teachers renew and revive their scientific ideas so that they can better enlighten their students. UT Southwestern’s Allied Health Science School is attended by nurses and others who have decided, for example, to switch to physical therapy or become a physicians assistant. Now a member of The Texas A&M University System, Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas provides educational opportunities to those looking to explore, or change their specialty in, a dental career.

For those wishing to further explore a hobby or a personal interest, non-credit and college credit courses and workshops are popular options. SMU and Texas Women’s University offer informal courses in subjects such as art, philosophy, and computers. At TWU in Denton, students can take courses in specialized subjects such as fund raising, dental hygiene, and speed reading, as well as courses geared solely towards women. Randy West, an advertising executive in Dallas and a self-proclaimed political junkie, is taking a course in politics at SMU. “Learning more about a subject I enjoy is relaxing,” maintains Randy. “Before, I spent a lot of my free time at home surfing the web and reading every book and magazine on politics. Now, I’m gaining a broader understanding of the subject, which makes my hobby much more interesting and fun.”

The community college districts in Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin counties-with a combined thirteen locations-are overflowing with courses on just about every conceivable subject. These options are appealing because of the accessible class schedules, budget-friendly tuition costs, and the schools’ focus on career-guidance. El Centro College in downtown Dallas has generated dozens of success stories involving career-focused adults. Graduates of the Food and Hospitality program have become chefs at restaurants such as The Mansion on Turtle Creek and the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus. A graduate of the Fashion Design program is currently a host and designer on the Home Shopping Network in New York.

El Centro also offers REAL-an entre -preneurship course focused on teamwork, interaction, evaluation, student action, and teacher involvement. The program helps participants develop the skills and knowledge necessary to draft and execute a business plan for an enterprise of the student’s choice. In addition. El Centro appeals to computer buffs as the only Dallas community college to offer training on the AS/400-IBM’s multi-user business computing system that is used most in businesses throughout the world.

For individuals who crave the convenience of their own homes, El Centro, Texas Christian University, and The University of Dallas are teaching courses via the Internet. TCU’s on-line course lineup includes The Writer’s Electronic Workshop by which students can submit their work and receive instructor critiques while sitting at their home computers.

Full-time students looking to add some fun to their academic life love programs such as SMU’s Summer Studies in Taos program. Located ten miles from Taos, N.M., SMU’s summer campus offers more than 40 courses at Fort Burgwin, N.M. While in the valley of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, surrounded by extensive prehistoric ruins and cultural heritage, learn about art and history.

It’s clear that the ’80s trend toward work, work, and more work has given way to the attitude that personal and professional enrichments are both significant priorities. Dallas and Fort Worth area schools have responded with programs that deliver convenience to adults of every age and in most situations. As a result, the typical obstacles that previously discouraged adults from going to school no longer exist. Day or night, at work or at a workshop, on videotape or online-adults are trading valuable leisure time for textbooks. The opportunities are endless. “When I decided to go back to school, it wasn’t a matter of where I could go,” says Paul. “Fortunately, it boiled down to where I wanted to go. It s nice to have so many choices. “

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