By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Working 40 hours a week at a bank didn’t keep Melissa Harris from earning a degree from Northeastern State University.
Harris finished her degree in a little more than three semesters through Reach Higher, a program geared to helping working adults complete their degrees. She now is Armstrong Bank’s assistant vice president for training and development instruction.
“Reach Higher helped me to become an officer,” Harris said. “In this organization, you must have a degree in to become an officer. It shows your commitment.”
Reach Higher has helped hundreds of adults move up in their jobs — or get better jobs — by earning a degree. The program is offered at nine Oklahoma colleges, including NSU. Enrollment for the summer semester begins March 25.
“What it has done has been to help people who have stopped going to college and never finished their degrees go on and finish,” said Tim McElroy, the dean of NSU’s Muskogee Campus. “It helps people in the job market by helping them finish their degree.”
NSU was the lead institution in starting the program, he said.
Since 2007, the program has recorded 362 graduates, including 44 from NSU, McElroy said. NSU currently has 50 students in the program, he said.
Reach Higher literature says a college graduate could earn $1.1 million more over a lifetime than a high school graduate.
McElroy said the program offers graduates a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership.
“You learn marketing, ethics, how to do a spreadsheet,” he said.
Classes run for eight weeks, with the bulk of the lectures online.
“With this format, they can plug into a class at 10 at night or Saturday,” McElroy said.
The program offers classes on campus, too, he said.
Harris said she earned an associate’s degree from Tulsa Community College in 2004. However, a job and raising a family kept her from finishing the degree — at first.
She said she read about Reach Higher on the NSU website and started classes in spring of 2011.
“With the eight-week classes, I can take a full load and not take it all at once,” she said. “I can still jiggle my schedule.”
Harris said she also took summer classes at NSU.
Kendra Armstrong said NSU’s Reach Higher program helped her become more disciplined and organized. As a representative for Avon products, Armstrong helps lead and train other representatives.
“I have more than 100 people on my team,” she said, adding that the degree program helped her learn more about the business side of her job.
“I knew how to sell stuff, but not how to train other people,” she said.
Armstrong, who received an associate’s degree from Connors State College in 2006, said she heard about Reach Higher at a job fair. The program helped her earn a degree while working and raising two children.
“It was flexible enough for me to do school when I could,” she said. “With postings and discussion boards, you have the support of others if we needed to.”
Armstrong said: “The program helped me become disciplined enough to get stuff done on my own. It helped me work independently, but also be willing to work as a team.”
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To enroll: Go to reachhigheroklahoma.org or call (918) 683-0040.