Dr. Gordon Mapley knows that sometimes, life gets in the way of a college degree. As executive director of the Western Institute, he knew there were hundreds of people in St. Joseph who had a lot of credit hours without completing a degree, and he wanted to figure out a way to help them finish their college education, earn a bachelor’s degree and possibly advance their careers.

The Bachelor of General Studies

With those goals in mind, a new degree program was created for students with 75 credit hours or more – the Bachelor of General Studies – and Missouri Western began offering it in the fall of 2013. To date, 133 students have graduated with the degree.

Dr. Mapley explained that the BGS degree, which he calls a “completion degree,” requires the same amount of hours as any other bachelor’s degree from the University and it has the same requirements for general studies courses and upper level courses. The difference, he said, is that instead of choosing one major, the student chooses two minors (concentrations).

In most cases, many of the hours they have already earned count toward at least one of the minors, which reduces the hours they need to graduate. Dr. Mapley said the minors can even be customized if students earned hours from a different university.

Eric Kramer, academic advisor in the Western Institute, said last year, graduates in the BGS program needed an average of 34 hours to complete a degree, and it took them an average of three semesters and one summer to do it. However, he said he has worked with some graduates whose credits already fit into the BGS degree, and they only needed to apply for graduation.

Kramer said the degree can be for students who have been taking courses for several years, but changed majors a lot so they have credit hours in a variety of programs. Or, it could be students who earned a lot of hours in one field and decided that it wasn’t the career field for them.

“Many started out as traditional students, and then life happened,” said Dr. Melody Smith, interim assistant dean of the Western Institute who also works with the degree program.

That was the case for Bridget Blevins ’16 and Brandy Miller ’14, who earned the degree, and Will Carter, who will graduate this month.

Bridget Blevins ’16
Blevins, director of communications for the St. Joseph School District, had earned an associate degree from Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas right after she graduated from high school, and she transferred to Missouri Western to earn a communication degree. When she started working for KQTV full-time as a student, she continued taking classes, but realized her hectic work schedule made it too difficult.

“Being in media is demanding, and there was no such thing as normal work hours,” she said. “It became too difficult to get to class on time, or even to get to class.”

With her education on hold, Blevins stayed in the television business for 17 years, advancing to news director and anchor before she left KQTV last year.

When she returned to Missouri Western in 2015 to earn the BGS degree, she needed just 16 credit hours to graduate and had already earned the hours she needed for a communication minor. Blevins took the classes she needed online to earn a psychology minor, and was ready to graduate within a year of returning.

“Part of me was embarrassed that it took me so long to get a degree,” she said. “I was able to find success and work my way up in my career, but getting that degree was about finishing what I started. I was really proud.”

Blevins also noted that she would not have been able to apply for her current position without the degree.

Brandy Miller ’14
Miller also can attest to the value of having a bachelor’s degree. One month after she graduated with her BGS, she was hired at Herzog Contracting Corp. in St. Joseph, Missouri, as a corporate recruiter, which was a step up from her previous job.

“That was a great graduation gift,” she said.

After graduating from Benton High School in St. Joseph, Miller worked full-time and went to college part-time, but marriage and a family eventually led to her stepping away from her coursework. When she looked into the BGS, she realized she only needed five classes to graduate, so she took four online and one in the classroom. Miller earned minors in communication and business.

“I always wanted to get a degree, and I couldn’t believe that that was all the hours I needed to get it,” she said. “It was a great opportunity.”

She participated in the fall 2014 commencement ceremony so that her two daughters could see her graduate.

“It took me a long time, but it made me proud.”

Will Carter
In 2014, student athlete Will Carter was busy balancing his college career and playing on the Griffon baseball team. Then life happened. At around the same time, he was diagnosed with cancer and his fiancé found out she was pregnant. Carter continued to take classes for one more semester, even though he had two cancer surgeries that semester. (He is appreciative of his professors who were willing to work with him to complete his classes.) Then he went to work full-time and put his degree on hold. His daughter was born in March 2015.

In the spring of 2016, Kramer, who was Carter’s advisor when he was an athlete, called him about the BGS program.

“That opened the door for me,” Carter said. He could take all but two courses online, which offered just the flexibility he needed. He will graduate this month with minors in business and entrepreneurship.

“These programs are fantastic,” he says. “Missouri Western is a great school to go to and get an education. They try to help you and give you a chance to achieve at the highest level.”

Carter plans to use his degree to help him advance in his current position at Tilton, Thomas and Morgan, Inc., an insurance agency in St. Joseph, but he is also happy that his daughter will someday realize the importance of sticking to your dreams to achieve your goals.

“It’s a pretty amazing degree,” Carter said. “Graduating was one of my biggest goals.”

Online option
Many of the students working on the BGS degree are primarily or entirely taking online courses, and online course offerings have continued to grow. Most of those returning to college to earn the BGS degree are working full-time, Dr. Mapley said, and earning all the credits they need in a physical classroom just isn’t possible.

Since Missouri Western began the initiative to grow its online programming, the number of titles in the inventory has grown from 30 in 2008 to 302 in 2016. There were 257 active online titles in fall 2016.

Blevins, Miller and Carter all agree that they probably would not have been able to complete their degrees without the online options.

For more information about the BGS degree, go to missouriwestern.edu/completion or call the Western Institute at (816) 271-4100.

“We really are transforming lives through the power of education,” Dr. Mapley said.


Grant helps students earn degree
A parallel program to Missouri Western’s Bachelor of General Studies is the Buchanan County Degree Attainment Initiative, which began in 2012 when Missouri Western was awarded a $1 million grant from the state and named one of nine Innovation Campuses in Missouri.

In order to receive funding from the grant, Missouri Western partners with area businesses whose employees can receive up to $7,500 to assist them in completing their degree. Along with University courses, the students’ employers must provide on-site training and mentoring.

Additionally, for each partnering business, at least 51 percent of the scholarship recipients must be low or moderate income, using the federal government criteria. Sixteen companies have partnered with Missouri Western.

The initiative was established by the state to foster economic growth and workforce development by assisting residents in completing their college degrees, Dr. Mapley said. Since it began, 27 participants have graduated, and 25 students were in the program in fall 2016.