In March 2021, Temple's new Bachelor of General Studies degree was still nearly half a year away from its official launch during the fall 2021 semester. Fast forward to May 2022 and the first Bachelor of General Studies graduates are about to cross the finish line on a journey that for many of them was years in the making.
"The Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) offered by University College was developed specifically for adult learners, giving them the perfect opportunity to complete their degree," said Dr. Vicki Lewis McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College and Director of Temple University Ambler. "Life happens and sometimes external or internal forces prevent students from finishing their goal of graduating. This program is that last step to making that dream become reality."
According to Dr. Nicole Westrick, Associate Vice Provost for University College, the BGS program gives working adults the flexibility to customize the program to suit their needs and goals. From the arts to engineering, students may choose an area of study and combine that with minors and certificate programs from a broad spectrum of Temple schools and colleges to help them prepare for the next step in their career.
"The program was designed for adult learners with prior college and at least 60 transferable credits who are ready to complete their undergraduate degree," she said. "It is a 120-credit bachelor's program focused on creating a solid foundation for a wide variety of careers. A dedicated team of University staff worked tirelessly to recruit and promote the program and their efforts have certainly achieved wonderful results — a diverse cohort of students who will soon be proud Temple graduates."
BGS students have access to courses and resources available at any of Temple's campuses, including Main Campus, Ambler Campus, Temple University Harrisburg and Temple University Center City. Administrators for the Bachelor of General Studies program are McGarvey, Westrick and Tara Stasik, Director of Academic and Student Services for University College.
"The new program has received full support from University administrators and Temple departments. We were charged to bring this initiative to fruition to serve adult students and to serve our Temple re-enrollment population — those students who had left Temple and never received a degree — to bring them back and re-ignite that Temple pride," she said. "For the program, University College is providing student services and support that spans Temple's regional campus, from admissions and advising all the way through to graduation."
According to Westrick, development of the program was a University-wide collaborative effort spearheaded by the University College leadership team, Strategic Marketing and Communications, Institutional Research and Assessment and University Admissions.
"(Dr.) Shawn Abbott (Vice Provost for Admissions, Financial Aid and Enrollment Management) has been a true ally in the implementation of this program from the very beginning," she said. "There is now a new role in Undergraduate Admissions focusing on working with schools and colleges on re-enrollment."
What makes the Temple program unique, according to Abbott "is that the Bachelor of General Studies builds on Temple's entire academic foundation."
"Beyond the capstone class that was specifically created for the BGS program, the degree taps into courses offered by Temple's existing school and college courses. BGS students are taking the same classes as students who are at the Fox School of Business, who are at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, classes that are taught by the same professors with the same depth and rigor," he said. "The program is the best of all worlds. You're able to take advantage of the courses offered by our sterling schools and colleges while being enrolled in a program specifically designed to meet the unique needs of adult learners."
The BGS program also provides change of program students an excellent avenue to complete a Temple degree, Abbott said.
"(Change of program) students now have a pathway toward degree completion that we never had before. I'm hopeful that the program can be one of our instruments to improve both our retention at the University and our graduation rates," he said. "I know we also encounter students every year who, possibly unnecessarily, take time off from Temple or they decide to leave the nest in what they think is a permanent way. I'm hopeful that as we move forward with this program and BGS has increasing visibility that even students who do take time off from Temple are aware before they leave that this might be an excellent conduit for them to return."
Stasik said the BGS program embraces Temple's roots going all the way back to University founder Russell Conwell.
"Temple was started by Russell Conwell as a night school of adult learners. This program goes a long way toward embracing that role again as an adult-friendly institution," she said. "Maybe that propels our students to great success in the field they are currently in, or it opens up entirely new career opportunities. Because this degree program is so flexible, the opportunities truly could be limitless, especially when you're customizing the program to your interests. For example, if you already have a lot of courses in business, with this degree in hand you could seek out a management position thanks to that specialized focus or go on to a graduate degree program."
For change of program students, the BGS program "means they can work with University College administrators and see if the BGS degree is right for them," Stasik said.
"It means that they have another avenue to explore that doesn't result in them leaving Temple," she said. "It is an opportunity to help students achieve their goal of getting a Temple degree."
According to Stasik, the first cohort in fall 2021 consisted of a combination of re-enrollers and change of program students.
"The students in the BGS program are split between former Temple students and current change of program students. It's a very diverse population — we could have a 22-year-old in a class with someone in their 50s or 60s," she said. "In August when we had recruited the first cohort, we were already hearing stories about what it meant to the students to have this program as an option. Hearing that Temple cared, that Temple wanted them back, it meant so much to them and meant so much to us as well. To see the emotion, to see the excitement of the students, it validated all of the work that had been put into developing the program for these students — they want to be here."
For those students that could not finish in their original school or college, "they might be feeling a little frustrated or a little lost," McGarvey said.
"This is another chance to get their degree without diverging very far from their original goals. The final capstone course is taken by everyone," she said. "They learn from each other, which is such an enriching experience for all of the students. Often adult learners have the same doubts and fears that traditional students might have starting out — they need the same champions and advocates, maybe even more so."
For graduating BGS students, the finish line is now just weeks away. You may read about their experiences in the program here. The first Bachelor of General Studies Graduation Ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 5, at 1:30 p.m. in Rock Hall at Main Campus.
"I don't think any of us thought we would graduate in just one year so many students. The first graduating cohort clearly demonstrates that there was and is a need for this kind of program at Temple," Abbott said. "We finally have a program that can be widely promoted to working adults, to individuals who started their college experience but then for whatever reason have taken time off, have been away from academics and now want to finish the job that they started."
Temple wants students to reap the rewards of their degree "and command the salaries, the graduate school acceptances, the career development and career opportunities that they rightly deserve having spent so much time on completing this degree," Abbott said.
"Having a barrier because of, in some cases, just being one course away from completing their degree, it's crushing to think that it might be preventing them from achieving their life goals," he said. "It's wonderful to have this generalist degree to enable students to return to college and become an alumnus or an alumna — they become a part of this incredible network of more than 350,000 Temple alums."
Stasik said previous learning experience is certainly valid no matter how many years have passed.
"We want to welcome them home and we want to ensure the program works to serve the needs of all of our students. Like any new program it will evolve," she said. "We are looking at the possibility of students receiving credit for life and work experience. If students want to pursue an internship, how do we create our own internship program? We want to ensure that our students feel seen, they feel heard, they feel respected and appreciated and are an essential part of the diverse Temple community. Finishing what they started is possible, this program is here for them, and they are taking this important step to achieve their goals."
University College is also working closely with Justin Miller (Temple's Senior Associate Athletic Director) and the Athletic advising team in the Resnick Center to help students make a return to Temple, Stasik said.
"Ultimately, I hope that we continue to propel Temple to do more to serve adult learners, to meet their unique needs. We've brought back the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honors Society for adult learners and are working to create some adult learner clubs and organizations," she said. "It would be great to see that grow beyond the BGS program. There are certainly opportunities to continue to partner with our colleagues across the University."
For more information about the Bachelor of General Studies program and how to apply for admission or reenroll, contact the University College Academic and Student Services team at 215-204-6565 or BGSadmissions@temple.edu.