Widener University

Posted on February 1, 2009

University College

One of the earliest participants in the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation Scholarships for Mature Women program, Widener University has maintained its strong commitment to addressing the needs of this growing population. Through Widener’s University College, with its focus on the specific issues faced by adult learners, staff members reach out and welcome nontraditional students with understanding, encouragement, sensitivity, and support. The Newcombe Foundation staff is impressed by the care with which the scholarship selection committee considers each Newcombe Scholarship candidate, by the support offered to scholarship applicants, and by the staff’s close knowledge of and appreciation for the obstacles faced by Mature Students who seek to earn a college degree.

What follows is an overview of University College’s operations from Dr. Emily Richardson, Dean of University College.

Widener University, a private, multipurpose university established in 1812 with campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, PA, and Wilmington, DE, is dedicated to serving a diverse student population of more than 6,700 graduate and undergraduate students.

University College of Widener University, a recipient of scholarship funding from the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation since 1981, was established as an independent school to serve the growing community of part-time adult undergraduate students. There are now over 500 non-traditional learners taking both credit and non-credit courses, and over 60% of them are women. University College has been specifically designed to meet the needs of adult students with family and work responsibilities, offering convenience and flexibility in scheduling, as well as extensive support services for new or returning students.

Widener University student Margaret Sweetwood
Margaret Sweetwood graduated in December 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, and has been a recipient of the Newcombe Scholarship for several years. Her passion to teach is “rooted in my son’s autism, diagnosed in 1999.” Stretched financially because of a life-threatening illness of her husband, Margaret applied to receive an award from Newcombe through University College. Margaret was honored by the University Continuing Education Association of the Mid-Atlantic Region as the Student of the Year in 2007

All University College campus operations, including counseling offices, are open during the evening and on weekends to help students navigate the scheduling process. Advisors assigned to adult students often have been adult students themselves, and have a true appreciation for the challenges faced by these students. These advisors meet with students in person, via telephone or via e-mail to answer their questions. Because of the specific concerns of adult students, who often put the needs of their children, spouses, aging parents, and jobs ahead of their own ambitions, advisors often help students arrange schedules around their children’s schedules. This is possible because of flexible scheduling options; courses are offered on evenings or weekends, online, or through an accelerated degree program called NetCampus. This flexibility sometimes results in many students taking classes with a son or daughter.

In addition, support services offered adult students (one-stop enrollment center, library, career and planning services, and the writing center) are available in the evenings to meet the needs of students who can’t be on campus during traditional hours of 9 to 5.

Responding to the specific needs of mature students reentering the academic environment, University College created TRED (transitional education) about 15 years ago. Transitional Education is a 3 credit course, offered in addition to the orientation provided each semester to new adult learners, that is typically taken the first semester of enrollment and designed for anyone who has either never been to college or who has been out of school for a long period of time. Students learn how to use campus resources such as the writing center, library and tutoring services while learning how to write a research paper, to make a presentation, and to be successful in college. This course is offered to students for $100, and is a great way to edge back into academics.

In addition to scheduling and academic support, mature students also receive assistance in the search for financial aid. Retention of mature learners often depends upon obtaining financial assistance, and mature students often find that they are not eligible for more traditional sources of aid. With this in mind, University College works to find a variety of scholarships to help students in need. University College students apply twice each year (November and April) for scholarship award consideration, and complete a 500-word essay describing their need for financial assistance. A team of ten individuals, including administrators, faculty and alumni, meet after reading all of the submissions (provided to them without names) to determine who should receive an award. The process of selecting the scholarship winners is never easy, as some essays deeply touch the scholarship committee members, leaving them wondering how some of the applicants manage their lives. As a result, long, passionate discussions ensue about who is most deserving, or, for example, about whether a student clearly in need of an education outweighs one who is more able but who desperately needs financial assistance. The committee works to find aid for as many people as possible, returning each semester to process new applicants.

In offering academic, scheduling and financial aid support, University College tries to meet the needs of and provide support for its nontraditional, part-time and mature students. Integral to the success of its program, however, is a staff whose passion is fostering the well-being and success of its students.

For further information about Widener’s University College, please visit its website.