Structuring the Newcombe Scholarship
Program to Serve Mature Students
- Towson University
Towson University is a large and growing public institution, the second largest in Maryland. Within the past two years, it has reorganized its approach to serving its diverse population and has used the Newcombe Scholarship program as a focal point for a series of events and activities to benefit adult students. At the October 2011 Newcombe Conference for partners in the Scholarships for Mature Women program, Marie Lilly, Associate Director for Women's Resources, spoke about the challenge of structuring a program that would offer support - beyond the financial - for recipients of Newcombe Scholarships. The following is an article that summarizes the program that now exists at Towson University.
The following is an overview written by Marie Lilly, Associate Director for Women's Resources, Center for Student Diversity, Towson University.
Since 1999, Towson University has partnered with the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation to help mature students meet their goals. Historically, the program at Towson has only focused on financial support for these students, with little personal contact between the school and the students. In 2011, the Center for Student Diversity, which administers the Newcombe Scholarships, decided to change that.
The Newcombe Program at Towson is all about three core concepts: Completion, Community, and Career. While their personal situations may vary, most mature students come back to school for one reason: to advance their personal careers so they can better provide for their families. In order to succeed in today's economy, they know they need a degree. While completing their degrees as fast as possible is important, necessity also tends to require them to simultaneously work at least one job to make ends meet. To accommodate this necessity, some students are able to secure on-campus jobs; others are encouraged to find jobs in their field of study so that they can gain professional experience. For students who find that neither is an option, they must learn to negotiate with their employers in order to prioritize school. Although this can make the present more financially difficult, the sooner students complete their degrees, the more fiscally solvent they become. As one student, a single mom pursuing a degree in Elementary Education noted: "It means peace of mind, financially, to be able to complete my degree while supporting a family."
Towson's program is intentionally designed to accommodate the busy lives of its adult students. Events are held at a variety of times including evenings and weekends so participants are never forced to choose between the program, their classes, or their jobs. In addition to flexible scheduling, the program maintains a strong focus on graduation, constantly asking participants how much time they have left, what classes they need to take, and whether or not they have talked to their advisors about graduation. Some students think if they simply follow their advisor's advice for course selection, they will graduate on time. We encourage them to be proactive and assertive with their advisors, always mindful of their ultimate goal.
Above and beyond financial help, the Newcombe Program emphasizes community. One student wrote of the program: "It helps to meet new people that are my age so I can hopefully become more involved in events at Towson." Towson is a big school with over 15,000 undergraduate students; it is easy for a mature student to feel alone in this crowd. The Newcombe Program attempts to overcome this feeling and create spaces on campus that connect these older students. Although the program has a limited cohort of thirty scholarship recipients, most social events are open to all mature students on campus. These events are advertised through the Veterans Program, Commuter Student Services, the Office of Financial Aid, and Cook Library, where older students tend to barricade themselves, avoiding the bustling and loud student union. One simple yet important part of this new program has been the Mature Students Lunch and Peer Support Group. The group meets once a month and during the first meeting one participant remarked, "It's so nice not to be that old person sitting alone in the cafeteria!"
Finally, the Newcombe Program at Towson maintains a strong focus on the students' career goals after graduation since it is important that students have clear goals that are realistic for today's tough job market. During their time in the program, students meet one-on-one with the program advisor to set goals, attend career development events, participate in workshops sponsored by the Career Center, and finally identify and start a formalized relationship with a mentor in their chosen field. Particularly for students looking to enter into a new career after graduation, having a mentor is essential. They learn how to use their mentors for advice, references, job contacts, and getting to know the secret ins and outs of any profession.
Being a mature student is all about understanding the balancing act. Students are generally juggling school, work, children, dependent parents, and/or the financial capacity to make all of this happen. The Newcombe Program at Towson is trying to help with this balance as much as possible. By reducing some of the financial strain and connecting students to each other, the program assists students as they complete their educational goals with a constant focus on what happens after graduation.
For further information about Towson's Center for Student Diversity, click here.
To view Marie Lilly's PowerPoint presentation from the 2011 Newcombe Conference, click here.