Karen Powery-Ebanks believes she’s finally on the cusp of being able to pursue her bachelor’s degree.

Ms. Powery-Ebanks, 53, was among a crowd of more than 150 people who attended an informational seminar Thursday night on the new Prior Learning Assessment program at the University College of the Cayman Islands. The program, which will begin in fall 2019, is designed for adult learners returning to school. Each student is evaluated to see how much of their professional experience might translate into college credits, thus shortening the path to a certificate or a degree.

“I’ve been asking Mr. Bodden to get this program in here for some time,” Ms. Powery-Ebanks said, referring to UCCI President Roy Bodden. “I feel really, really good about it happening.”

Since earning an associate degree in early childhood education in 2006, Ms. Powery-Ebanks said she has been working with children. She currently works in the YMCA’s after-school program. A bachelor’s degree, she said, would help her career.

“Hopefully it would advance me in every way,” she said. “I should be able to move up the ladder better.”

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She said one reason that has kept her from returning to school is scheduling. The program, which will initially be geared toward business classes, will offer courses in the evenings.

Goldie Blumenstyk said campuses have to work to accommodate adult learners. A reporter and editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Blumenstyk was the featured speaker at Thursday’s event.

“Can you call yourself an adult-friendly school if you don’t offer sessions after 5 p.m.?” she said. “If you can’t call a counselor after you put your kids to bed?”

To serve adults, she said, schools such as UCCI have to provide an environment where those students feel comfortable and supported. That may mean retraining some personnel to provide service in multiple areas, rather than being focused on a single task.

Trends in adult education, Ms. Blumenstyk said, include greater collaborations between academia and industry. Some larger companies, she said, provide space for employees to do schoolwork and even host on-site courses.

Susan Young is director of UCCI’s civil service college and is one of the directors of the new Prior Learning Assessment program. She said she is hoping companies in Cayman will be willing to collaborate with the college to encourage adult learning.

While the program offers opportunities to adult learners, she cautioned the audience that it was not a free ride.

“By no means is this a quick and easy way to earn credits,” she said. “But for many of you, you have college-level knowledge.”

And that knowledge can be recognized with college credits, she added.

One of the benefits of earning a degree, she said, is in job security. Statistics show that people with college diplomas are less likely to be unemployed than those who do not.

“When you have a degree, you have a base set of skills,” Ms. Young said. “If my company downsizes, it might make it easier for me to move.”

Some in the audience were considering moving schools.

Paulette McField, 37, is currently taking courses at the International College of the Cayman Islands. She’s exploring whether she could earn a degree more quickly through UCCI’s new program.

“I wanted to see if it would be a good idea to switch,” Ms. McField said. “If this would be flexible, it would be an option I would consider. There are programs here that they don’t offer at ICCI.”

Vice President and Provost Livingston Smith said the school is also pursuing ways for adult students to finance their educations. Government appears to be on board, he said.

“We’re in touch with the scholarship secretary and we believe they will come forward and support this,” Mr. Smith said.

President Bodden said this is the last of the initiatives he wanted to put into place before he retires from UCCI at the end of this month, following nine years of leading the campus.

“We believe this is revolutionary and we have designed it in such a way for your convenience,” he told the prospective students. “We’re not going to guarantee it will increase your salary. What it’s going to do is increase your self-confidence and help you reach [new] levels.”

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