Nearly 30 years after leaving Ball State, general studies major Kat Parker re-enrolled in the spring of 2014 to finish her degree.

Before re-enrolling for college, Parker debated many times if she was “too old” and it was “too late” for her, but her constant regret about not finishing college pushed her to try again.

Kat Parker, Photo Provided

“For me, earning a degree wasn’t for any career opportunity or change. I regret not taking college seriously, dropping out and disappointing my mother. I don’t like the fact that I quit something so important,” Parker said. “When my youngest daughter was finishing up her time in high school, I thought that the time was right for me to try college again. My only regret is that my mother passed away before I got to re-enroll.”

Ball State’s re-enrolling program has existed for years and allows students like Parker, who feel “too old,” to easily return. While the program is not based on age, 63 percent of those who return as undergraduate students are between ages 22 and 29, said Staci Davis, executive director of operations for the Department of Online and Strategic Learning.

The program includes students who dropped out, became inactive, were academically dismissed or dropped out of another school and pursued Ball State. 

Parker first chose Ball State as the best fit for her after visiting a friend from high school on campus. She said she “fell in love” and did not need to look at any other colleges. 

Even though Parker was accepted at Ball State, she was more interested in “social activities and being away from [her] parents” than studying, so after her first trimester, when she was placed on academic probation, she left. 

After leaving, Parker decided to get married and start a family of her own. In that role she was able to stay home, raise her daughters and volunteer for their Girl Scout troop and school’s parent-teacher organization.

While she still loves campus, Parker returned because Ball State has an online program in general studies that allows her to work classes around her personal and professional life. 

“At first, I came to Ball State as a journalism major because I wanted to write, but now I like to joke that I haven’t figured out what I want to do as a grown up,” Parker said. “But seriously, [when I came back] I chose the general studies program because it would give me the most exposure to many different courses.”

As a returning student, Parker was able to keep the grades, credits and transcript that she had already started building. While she started 10 credits closer to graduating, Parker still had a long way to bounce back from her 0.8 GPA. 

“Kat’s ethic and drive can best be seen in her cumulative GPA,” her husband Troy Parker said. “When she started back at Ball State, her GPA was less than stellar, but now look at her. She has a very respectable 3.0 overall. Her degree will be proof that she is strong and capable, and the only person she’s ever needed to prove it to is herself. The rest of us have known it all along.”

For Kat Parker, the hardest part about returning to college has been navigating Blackboard, learning how to correctly format research papers and operate a scientific calculator. 

“I would not have survived my first semester if I hadn’t been able to reach out to my daughters for help on how to navigate Blackboard,” Parker said. “Now, it’s the role reversal: me going to them for help all the time when I need to bounce around ideas, to clarify something I’ve read or if I need another set of eyes to proof a paper.”

Parker also said she felt a bit intimidated during her first semester back to college, but she enjoyed “having such a diverse peer group.”

“I only have one negative experience where a group project with younger students didn’t go over well,” Parker said. “I felt like a stern mom trying to get a point across [about] being considerate of everyone’s time and not to wait until the last minute to participate.”

Besides the coursework, Parker also struggles with her limited time commitment because she can only take a few classes each semester while staying on course to graduate in 2022. 

“When you only take a couple of courses a semester as I do, it is hard not to get frustrated and overwhelmed. There are definitely moments when I want to just quit,” Parker said. “Thankfully, my husband is my biggest cheerleader, and he has kept me going during those tough times.”

Parker said she enjoys learning, understanding and finding ways to apply her new knowledge to everyday life. 

“When I tell people that I am taking college classes again, so many respond with how old they are,” she said. “Is it hard going back to college after 20-plus years away? Absolutely. I want people to know that they are never too old if they really want to finish college.”

Currently, Parker is one of more than 800 students enrolled in undergraduate classes online. However, there are 5,000 total students taking online courses through the program, according to Nancy Prater, director of marketing and communications for the Department of Online and Strategic Learning. 

In the past, there were only two bachelor’s degrees offered online, but now there are seven, according to Ball State’s website

Each returning student’s situation is different and handled accordingly by Ball State. If more than a year has passed between active sessions, a new application with a narrative is required. 

If they attended Ball State before re-enrolling, their transcript, credits and GPA automatically roll over into their first returning semester, but if they are coming from another institution, they must work with the Office of Admissions to transfer their previous transcript. 

“There is no limit on how long the registrar's office keeps transcripts,” Davis said. “Anything after 1988 is digital, but anything before is all paper. They have a catalog of courses that they use to find what is relevant and what isn’t. Some of the information from previous classes is not always relevant to courses today, so even though people have those credits, they may have to retake classes.”

Davis said that Ball State reaches out to students who have been inactive for a year or longer, and they have even gone back to students who were inactive for 10 years. 

“Our online footprint is growing with our undergraduates,” Prater said. “It is important for us to reach out because we are giving them a helping hand. They want to better themselves, and we can help them get their credentials. We are creating productive citizens.”

At the same time Parker returned to Ball State, Kendra Able was starting her first semester.

Able paused her education after one semester to work with children in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and returned in the fall of 2016 to finish her business administration degree. 

After Able received a summer internship at the orphanage’s office in the United States, she fell in love with Haiti and decided to work on-site. 

At the orphanage, Able was responsible for the “overall well-being of the kids in the home.”

“Most of them had been abused, were extremely malnourished and none of them had ever gone to school,” Able said. “My two biggest goals were to make sure they were getting the proper care [and] treatments and that they were enrolled for school. I ended up using some of my friends who had majored in child development or elementary education at Ball State to help me come up with a plan to get all of the kids on track.”

Able said that a big reason she came back to Ball State and finished her degree was because being in Haiti “ignited a passion” for her to finish. Many of the grown men and women in the small village where she stayed did not have the opportunity to attend school, and most barely knew how to sign their own names. 

“It would have been really easy to never have completed my degree, but I knew there would be more opportunities with one,” Able said. “Honestly, I didn’t value education prior to living in Haiti. It was just another stepping stone in life, but my time there shifted my perspective, and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity I had. I remember that on one of my last nights in Haiti, the oldest boy [Delva] in our home pulled me aside and told me that he would miss me, but he understood why I needed to go. He said, ‘Education is important. A degree is important. You have to finish. That’s a dream.’”

When returning to college, Able struggled to get back into a routine schedule. She said she had to get back into the “swing” of writing papers and taking tests along with adjusting to being a full-time online student. 

During her last semester at Ball State, Able was able to get a job working as a service consultant for ArcBest, a company that helps people move across the country. 

Today, Able is still working for ArcBest and utilizing the skills she learned when she returned to Ball State. 

“I had always been one to believe that who you know is more important than what you know, but I don’t believe that anymore,” Able said. “Yes, who you know might get you through the door, but what you know will keep you there. It also shows people that I didn’t just try something. I finished it.”

Contact Tier Morrow with comments at tkmorrow@bsu.edu