November 22 2021
Written by Matt Watson
Travis Brookston took his first college course in 1969, the same year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Broxton completed seven semesters as a history major at Lincoln University, but eventually came in short of a semester undergraduate degree for financial reasons.
After taking college classes on and off throughout his long career at the company, the 72-year-old photographer will receive a Bachelor of Art degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver in December. The degree will complete an academic journey spanning seven decades – one giant leap made up of many small steps.
“In everything I do, I always like to finish what I start with. It has taken a long time, but we are finally crossing the finish line and it is our pleasure to be able to do so,” said Brookston, who hopes to inspire his high school-aged daughter as he walks through graduation on December 17. We do.” “It is important for her to see that her parents are still pursuing education and how important education is.”
Broxton is one of about 680,000 Coloradans who left college without a degree, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. These students are the centerpiece of a statewide campaign to re-engage left-of-college adult learners as Colorado tries to meet the needs of an advanced workforce and grapple with the economic turmoil of the pandemic.
MSU Denver received a $5.7 million grant to finish its Colorado Opportunity Grant Initiative. The university intends to use this funding to recruit and serve adults with some college credit from MSU Denver or elsewhere but who have not been enrolled in the past two semesters. Half of the scholarship money will go directly to students in the form of scholarships.
The university plans to support 1,000 students over the next three years, starting with a scholarship of $1,000 in the first semester for each student—roughly the equivalent of a free semester. They will also receive additional assistance throughout their time in school, access to emergency funds and a dedicated path mentor and peer mentors to help them re-engage in school and achieve success.
Said Marie Soseda, Ed.D. D., associate vice president of the Enrollment Department at MSU Denver, said additional support for students who return to or transfer to the university after taking time off would be a “game changer.”
“Bringing the student through the door is one thing, but supporting them throughout the whole process is another thing to ensure their completion. With this program, that is what we will be able to do,” Soseda said.
The average undergraduate student at MSU in Denver is 25 years old and has a long history of educating adult students. Sauceda said the majority of Roadrunners students are transfer students as well, so the scholarship program augments the university’s existing pipeline with resources to better serve students.
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Megan Scherzberg, PhD, said national research has shown that students who associate early with a professor or employee are more likely to stay and succeed in school. This can be a challenge for dropout students and transfer students, who are more likely to work or have families than students coming straight from high school.
“Relocating students come to campus ready for a professional conversation,” said Sherzberg, director of the Office of Guidance, Transfer, and Retention at MSU Denver, whose name will be changed to Orientation, Transfer and Reengagement.
As the university refines its strategies to better serve students who have been out of school for a year or more, faculty and administrators have devised ways to meet students wherever they are in their lives. This includes a focus on providing college credit for work or military experience in the form of prior learning assessments, using the individual degree program to help students create their tailored degrees and offering classes outside of standard fall/spring/summer semester periods.
“It is possible that we need to identify innovative and flexible structures as they relate to options for students, especially adult learners, to complete degrees.” She said. “At the end of the day, the goal is to save students money and time and take them to degrees.”
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It’s a well-understood journey by Brookston, who has spent stints at the Historically Black University in Pennsylvania and an Institution for Hispanics in Colorado.
He began his 30-year career in retail management and took on a second career as a photographer, which began as a hobby backed by occasional classes at MSU Denver in the 1980s and 1990s.
He ran a computer store at Sears when personal computers became commercially available, worked for a telecommunications company when the cell phone came along and became a full-time photographer when cameras became digital. However, he always intended to finish his degree and take classes every semester after the Covid-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
As the oldest student in his Higher Art Experience classes on his way to an art degree with a focus on photography, Brookston said he loves being around young people and has been inspired by his teachers.
“Most of my classmates are 50 years younger than me, so it’s great to see all their ideas and creativity,” he said. “One of the things about art and one of the things about photography is that you are always learning something new. You always want to go out and push the envelope.”