Bachelor of General Studies Program Has
Served Non-Traditional Students for 25 Years
By Sherry Fisher
Denise Brown was a high school graduate working at a fast-food restaurant. She had always wanted to become a dentist. She is now in dental school, at the top of her class. Carolyn Scruse Hall, a former paralegal, now has her own law practice. Michael Bradford went from a job at Electric Boat to a position as assistant professor of dramatic arts at UConn's Avery Point campus.
They are among the thousands of graduates of UConn's Bachelor of General Studies program, which offers non-traditional students the chance to finish their bachelor's degrees.
The BGS program is now 25 years old.
During the coming year, UConn's College of Continuing Studies will host 25th anniversary celebrations at all six campuses to celebrate the program and its 3,700 graduates. The kick-off celebration will be held at the Grover Gallery in the Real Art Ways complex at 56 Arbor Street, Hartford on Thursday, Sept. 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The BGS program started with 27 students in 1977. By 1981, the program had expanded to all UConn campuses. By 2002, enrollment had increased to more than 1,000 students, with 369 students admitted for the fall semester, a 40 percent increase over the year before.
Those who enter the BGS program are usually older adults, ranging in age from their early 20s to late 70s, who have been away from school anywhere from a few months to, in some cases, 50 years, says Ken Fuchsman, executive program director of the BGS and non-degree studies programs.
Many have families and children, and need to live close to campus. Most of the students take courses at the regional campuses.
"We serve an adult population around the state who might not otherwise have access to UConn," Fuchsman says.
Denise Merrill '88 says she chose the BGS program because it enabled her to structure her studies so she could work, raise three children, and take courses of her choice at a variety of campuses on her own timetable. "It was the ideal program for someone like me who had accumulated credits over the years at various institutions and needed to build on those without losing what I already had done," she says.
Merrill is serving her fourth term as State Representative for the 54th House District in Mansfield and Deputy Majority Leader.
Mary Gates '93 enrolled in the program because she planned to get a master's degree in social work. "Rather than take a psychology major, BGS gave me a more rounded discipline, a more rounded approach to education," she says, "and they would accept all my previous credits."
Gates pursued a joint major with the UConn School of Social Work and the Yale School of Divinity. She is now an Episcopal priest and a psychotherapist in private practice.
The BGS program allows people with an associate's degree or 60 or more credits to enter UConn as a junior and earn bachelor's degrees.
A partnership with the Connecticut Community College system guarantees admission into the program to state community college graduates with a GPA of 2.0 or higher. Up to 90 credits can be accepted from other schools towards the BGS degree.
"We try to design a program that fits the needs of each student," Fuchsman says.
A student can design an individualized major with the guidance of a BGS counselor, who works one-on-one with the student from the time of the admission interview. The same counselor follows the student through his or her academic career.
"It's a very rewarding experience," says Fuchsman, who was a counselor for 14 years. "You feel like you're sharing a piece of someone's life.
"Some of the adults know exactly what they want to do; some have no idea what they want to do, but they know they want to go back to school. You're with them for a year to five years, helping with their issues and moving them to the next step in their lives.
"Most of the students say they love being in school again," he adds. "Coming back to school as an adult after you've been away for a while can be a challenge. It's like a second birth for some people. It's nice to watch."
Fuchsman has followed many of the students' careers: 30 percent have gone on to graduate school at universities including UConn, Yale, Columbia, and the University of California-Berkeley. They've attended graduate programs in business administration, law, education, human services, ministry, and dentistry. They have become CEOs, business executives, attorneys, legislators, counselors, police chiefs, and bankers.