“Stay strong and work through this difficult time in your studies. The end will come, but you must persist.”
Growing up on his family’s dairy farm in Evart, Mich., Nathan Parsons’ lifelong dream was to earn a college degree.
Working on the farm brought freedom, instilled responsibility and reassured the importance of family, faith and education.
Parsons’ father was president of the local school board for more than 20 years. His aunt, Anna Elder, was a high school counselor and later played a role in helping Parsons earn his degree. Parsons’ uncles, brothers and sisters are teachers.
“I knew that personal improvement through education was supported, quietly sometimes, actively sometimes – and not pushed,” he said.
Parsons, 45, will be thinking of his father and biggest supporters as he walks across the stage and graduates with a BS in Healthcare Administration from New England College in May 2017.
It’s taken Parsons nearly 30 years to get here.
“I want to encourage every student experiencing a time of discouragement. That little ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ does appear. Stay strong and work through this difficult time in your studies. The end will come, but you must persist,” he said.
Parsons admits he may have considered investing more in higher education earlier in life, given what he knows now.
“My aunt, when I went to college the first time, said, ‘While you’re in school, just go get your four-year-degree,’ and I didn’t listen to her as an 18-year-old boy. But, boy, life would have been so much easier had I,” he said.
Although Parsons knew he wanted a degree, he enrolled in a certificate program after graduating high school and planned to go back to college eventually.
He didn’t anticipate the deterrents that appeared:
- Parsons earned job promotions, moved, married, helped raise two daughters – and pushed classes aside.
- He started a bachelor’s degree program in his 20s, but dropped out to focus on work.
- In his 30s, he tried to re-enroll, only to learn his certificate courses weren’t accepted for transfer credit and he was denied acceptance into college.
Parsons was devastated and disappointed.
With the help of his aunt, he enrolled in an associate’s degree program at a local community college in Michigan. However, with Parsons’ work schedule and family responsibilities, he could only take one class per semester.
It took nearly five years to complete his associate degree in Business Administration.
“It just took forever and when I finished that, I’m like, ‘There’s no way. If I do my bachelor’s degree like this, I’m going to be 90 before I’m done,’” he said.
That’s when Parsons began searching for an online degree program that would enable him to earn a degree at a faster rate.
After sending transcripts all over the country and talking to numerous colleges, NEC’s clear path to graduation won him over. New England College accepted most transfer credits and offered four credit-hour courses in seven-week terms. This plan made it realistic and possible for Parsons to complete his bachelor’s degree quickly.
But, going back to school again wasn’t easy.
“There was a point about halfway through when I was very discouraged and it seemed like the work I had left was a mountain,” he said
Still, he kept moving forward and took hold of small victories to motivate him.
“Personally I needed to commit to completing baby steps like signing up for the next class, finishing the next assignment, and just trudging through,” he said.
As part of the online degree program at New England College, Parsons was matched with Student Services Representative Kimberly Williams to help him navigate the process and stay on track.
The pairing had a direct impact on Parsons’ success.
“Her regular phone calls and emails kept me on task. She’d sign me up for the next available class (according to my preference), making sure I had my FAFSA and other financial paperwork in order, and asked how I was doing managing personal and school responsibilities,” he said.
For Parsons, it was an unbelievable amount of support that felt absent until now.
“Had I had a representative like this to talk to when I was 18, my whole curvy higher education path would have been flattened out,” he said.
Parsons completed his bachelor’s degree in about half the time it took to earn his associate degree.
Today, Parsons is looking forward to his future and what he can accomplish by applying his life skills, work experience and degree to grow professionally and succeed in the healthcare industry.
“I’m not a doctor or a nurse, or a direct care provider, but I do really like helping those people, providing the tools for those people to do their job the best that they can and keeping that team of people encouraged, productive, to enable them to be the best that they can be,” he said.
While Parsons pursues this new career field, he plans to go back to school one more time – to earn a master’s degree. Parsons and his wife are moving to St. Joseph, Mich., as his wife recently accepted a new position within the nursing field.
“It is a perfect time to complete my master’s degree and find my next career challenge,” he said.
Parsons is confident his degrees will provide him with the tools needed to build a successful career in healthcare administration.
“That’s probably the most exciting part for me when I think about the future, that’s what I want to do.”