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Staff file Photo / A sign welcomes visitors to Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tenn.

Southern Adventist University will hold an open house next month to answer questions about its new adult degree completion program launching next semester.

Approved in October 2020, the program targets adult students with at least 24 college credits from a previous college to earn a bachelor's degree in one of three fields: business, communications or integrative studies.

Director of Graduate Marketing Laurie Gauthier said the school has a committee that has been interested in starting the program for five years, and that Southern professor Rachel Williams-Smith got involved and helped move the idea forward.

"She had started and directed some adult degree completion programs at previous universities where she worked, and once she became involved, she kind of helped us coalesce a little bit more, and gave us some steps forward," Gauthier said. "After a lot of market research and feasibility studies and that sort of thing, Southern made the commitment that we wanted to go ahead with it."

Cynthia Wright, director of the adult degree completion program, joined it in March. She told the Times Free Press in a Tuesday email that she was an adult learner — she returned to college in her mid-40s and completed her master's degree alongside her daughter in 2009.

"As the director of the adult degree completion program, I look forward to encouraging my students, and sharing my educational journey to encourage them to press forward to succeed, as I see myself in these students," Wright said.

Wright has worked on building courses, hiring faculty and developing procedures. Along with having at least 24 credit hours, she said requirements for students to qualify for the program include being age 25 or older, having a 2.0 GPA and being a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

Other area colleges have launched similar programs in recent months. In June, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved a new fully online bachelor's degree program at UTC, the bachelor of applied science in applied leadership, also aimed at nontraditional students who have not completed a degree.

This summer, Chattanooga State Community College and Cleveland State Community College prepared for face-to-face learning this fall but have maintained some hybrid and online course and degree options.

At Southern, most courses will be online, Wright said, with a few hybrid courses available. Each course will run for eight weeks, she said, with the program being customized for each student.

Students in the program will pay a reduced tuition of $376 per credit, Gauthier said, compared to Southern's usual price of $930 per credit.

Individuals can RSVP for the open house on Southern's website, and the program's classes begin Jan. 10.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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