- by Tom Eastman
A School for Thought
School for Lifelong Learning Brings Higher Education to the Valley
As any Wall Street broker knows, when a business decided to expand, the demand for its product is high. This economic principle helps to account for the recent opening of the North Country Region School for Lifelong Learning's office on Kearsarge Street in North Conway.
During the past several years, interest in the SLL's programs has skyrocketed, and their new office now makes it easier for area residents to take advantage of the wide range of university-level courses offered in the North country. However, this expansion, Academic Counselor Terry Moore noted, is only part of the SLL's ongoing effort to make post-secondary education more accessible to the people in northern New Hampshire.
"Whether our adult students enroll for a degree program, take credit courses, or simply sign up for workshops or non-credit classes, they all share a common desire for self-improvement and self-advancement," Moore said. "The North Country School for Lifelong Learning has tailored its approach to meet their needs."
According to Moore, students returning to school face a maze of obstacles which may often frustrate their efforts. For example, Moore pointed out that many of SLL's students have families and must perform "an incredible balancing act" just to find the time to study. Many others hold full or part-time jobs and have few hours - or the extra income for tuition - to spare. Considering these problems and others, Moore explained that most people need six to eight months simply to make the decision to return to school.
Realizing that North Country people face a wide range of difficulties, the School for Lifelong Learning has designed its programs to be accessible, flexible and affordable. By offering its classes during weekday evening and on the weekends, by holding courses at four North Country locations (Conway, Littleton, Berlin and Lancaster), and by working with qualified individual students to pursue the available financial aid, SLL's enrollment in the Conway area alone has climbed to more than 200 degree candidates, with many other people taking non-credit courses and SLL workshops.
In effect, SLL offers something for everyone. While many people enroll to complete AAGS (Associates of Arts General Studies) of BGS (Bachelor of Arts in General Studies) degrees, others take advantage of SLL courses to continue professional training, to pursue a particular interest, or just to learn more about a selected topic. "When people come to us, they don't necessarily become degree students," Moore said. Many use the courses as extracurricular activities to enrich their lives." In addition, an ongoing series of workshops - covering topics ranging from financial aid to career-life planning - focuses on specific issues and problems pertinent to the needs of North Country learners.
An accredited arm of the University System of New Hampshire, the School for Lifelong Learning offers a unique approach to education. "In part, what makes us different is our campus which has four branches in the North Country," Moore pointed out. "But we've also structured our programs to be more flexible and more accessible to North Country learners." In a sense, if students have a will to learn, the school will help them to find a way.
Aside from a wide range of courses, a flexible transfer-credit policy, and numerous workshops, the SLL has adopted itself to the North Country's needs through a policy of making the structure fit the needs of its students. This attitude is reflected in the school's policy toward course scheduling. "Traditionally, students are required to complete courses for a degree within a set number of years," Moore said. "However, at SLL, you can - if you choose - study only one course a semester and take as many years as you need to finish."
Moreover, programs such as CLEP (College Level Examination Program) which allows qualified students to pass courses by exam and "Validation," and "Portfolio Preparation and Education Assessment" enable students to earn college credits for past work or life experiences. For individuals who may have interests beyond the courses offered by the school, SLL has established a Contract Learning program which matches students with tutors on a one-to-one basis. Here, in past semesters, individuals have created their own courses in such fields as French, botany field studies, autumn hawk migration and fiction writing. The possibilities are as limitless as the student's imagination.
Finally, what separates the North Country SLL from other programs is the concern and care it has shown toward its students. By opening its North Conway office, it has established another link to the community, a link which makes its programs truly accessible.
"We're here for the learner," Moore explained, "People can stop in and talk with us. There's a much more prompt and immediate response to any problems that might arise, and we have a direct access to the rest of the University System of New Hampshire. We're only a phone call - or a short drive - away."
To make certain that students derive as much benefit as possible from their classes, SLL offers personal counseling and specific workshops aimed at career planning. "We're working hard to get people to think about strategies when they return to school," Moore said. "It's nice to be in the classroom and share academic knowledge, but it's important to integrate the vital skills of communication what you know - via resume writing and career techniques - so that prospective employers will understand what you have to offer. For those who return to school with the idea of starting a new career, we're more than willing to help."