On Sunday, July 22, 2012, President Mary Adams was recently a featured guest on The Jennifer Keitt Show, a national radio show about empowering and educating women. During the show, Mary shared her compellingly personal story of dropping out of college to get married and have children, then going back to school in her 30s to ultimately succeed in the distance education field and become president of two online universities.
The details of Mary’s personal success story also appear below.
From College Drop-Out to University President
Online education offers adult students the chance for success in their careers that they otherwise might not experience. Just ask Mary Adams, president of American Sentinel University, who dropped out of college and returned 17 years later, eventually to become president of two universities.
Mary had graduated from high school and started college, but felt that she wasn’t as prepared as she needed to be, as she struggled to earn passing grades. After meeting her husband and falling in love, she decided to drop out to get married. Over the years, she worked part-time as she raised her four children, but Mary knew that her path to success depended on her earning a degree. “I didn’t think anyone would hire me if I didn’t have a degree and I knew that going back to school was my best chance to be successful,” she says.
Times got tough when Mary finally did return to college: her husband lost his job, they lost their home, and they were forced to move in with her parents. “What kept me going was that I knew the path to success was predicated on finishing my degree and that each course I successfully passed gave me more confidence in myself to continue,” she says.
Balancing Work and Family Life
When Mary first went back to school she wasn’t altogether sure that she could do it because she hadn’t fared so well the first time around. So she devised a plan to make it work with her family by getting everyone involved. The plan was simple: Her kids had to study or read when she was studying. “When I went back to school, my kids knew that even if they didn’t have homework, there was an hour to two hours each day set aside for everyone to do some homework or read quietly,” she adds.
Mary’s family also pitched in to help out with the housework and preparing meals. Her kids made their own lunches the night before the following day of school. “I swear we ate the same seven meals for a few years, but persevered,” she says.
Most importantly, Mary says that she learned how to say ‘No’ and that she didn’t need to volunteer for everything at school to be a good mother. Outside of the home, she carried her schoolwork with her almost everywhere she went, so whenever she had some free time, she could read and take notes.
Mary’s Tips for Success
For any adult student going back to school, Mary recommends that you learn the signs for when you’re falling behind or feeling too much stress. If you can identify them early, you can plan ahead.
It’s not a good idea to take a lengthy break from your studies, she adds, because it is harder to get started again. But if you need to do so, try to plan ahead so you can avoid any additional stress of feeling guilty about taking a month off.
She also stresses that adult students must be realistic, especially as to what they can handle and what they can’t. Mary urges adult students not to take on too much and to be realistic with their expectations.
She recommends that adult students keep a chart of credit hours needed to finish their degree and update it with each final grade earned. It can also be helpful to add an expected completion date at the top, to track progress in both credits remaining and time remaining until you reach your goal.
Mary found the best way to stay balanced is to focus on what you are learning, not the final grade. Most importantly, she says, take the time to celebrate small victories.
“As an adult student you want to do well, but a lot of stress can come from wanting to get all As,” says Mary. “As are great, but they aren’t worth adding stress to your life. I recommend that adult students focus on the big picture. GPA is important, but it’s not the most important thing in your life when you are balancing so much. The learning is what’s important.”
Distance Learning was Key to Achievements
Mary credits distance learning for her successes today. She earned her graduate degree online and notes that in some ways it was easier and in other ways it was harder. “I could schedule my time, but it also meant it was a little to easy to put things off since I didn’t have to show up at a certain time,” says Mary. “It definitely gave me an appreciation for online students, what kind of discipline it takes, how hard they have to work and the kinds of support they need.”
Mary thinks that distance education is the difference-maker for stay-at-home moms who want to go back to school and earn their degree without needing to leave their home. “Today with the Internet so readily available and so many degree choices, a woman can change her life one course at a time.” She notes that a woman can still hold down a job, take care of her family and with a little less sleep for a few years she can learn anything she needs to start a new career or run her own business.
Mary says it is important to have a plan and keep your goal in sight, but that you need to take time to look at every opportunity. She herself took time to look at other opportunities and was hired to work with an entrepreneur who was creating a new online school, “and the rest is history,” she says. While she says she never saw herself becoming a president of a university, she gives credit to the role that distance education played to prepare her for opportunities that she otherwise might have overlooked.
“I have worked hard and was able to change my life one class at a time with a supportive husband and family who allowed me to do great things,” says Adams. “Now I love what I do and would never have predicted this outcome all those year ago without the benefits of distance education.”
A Successful Career
Twenty years after dropping out of college, Mary earned a bachelor of arts in history from California State University, Fullerton and later earned her MBA from ISIM University.
Since earning her degree, Mary has gained more than 20 years of experience in distance education, including serving as president of Aspen University from 1992 to 2004. She has served as president of American Graduate School of Management (and its successor, American Sentinel University), since 2004.
Mary is a commissioner on the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). DETC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. She is a past chair of the Research and Education Standards Committee. In addition, she has chaired more than 30 DETC accreditation visits and received the DETC’s Distinguished Service Award and Distinguished Recognition Award.
She currently serves as vice chair of the Accrediting Commission of the DETC.