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Showing adult learners how it’s done

Dee Dotson falls in love with learning, achieves college goals later in life

Friday Jan 27, 2017

Dee Dotson was the kind of involved college student who took advantage of every opportunity. She made the most of her Indiana University Northwest education, not only by studying hard, but also representing students as a Student Government Association senator; working at the campus radio station; serving on various committees; leading philanthropic efforts, and more.

Now a fresh December 2016 graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in business, Dotson seems to be the quintessential college student just starting out -- building a career, embarking on life in the real world as an adult.

Well, not exactly.                                                                

Youthful as she appears, Dotson is 42 -- a married, mother of five, who fell into the ever-growing student population known as “adult learners,” those who did not follow the traditional path to college immediately after high school.

Despite being a generation removed from traditional-aged college students, Dotson made returning to school as an adult look completely natural. Probably because at IU Northwest, it is completely natural. Fifty-five percent of graduates earning a bachelor’s degree in 2016 were over the age of 25.

Dotson initially attended Columbia College in Chicago but was lured away from higher education by a well-paying job. She eventually left her position to stay at home with her children full-time. Before long, the desire for higher education resurfaced. When it did, Dotson returned to a two-year community college “to get her feet wet” and begin working toward her degree once again, a goal she wanted to achieve before her oldest, now 20, had become college-bound.

“We’ve instilled in our children the value of going to college, and while my husband has his degree, I had not yet earned mine,” Dotson said. “My motivation was to simply prove to my children, that no matter what – through adversity, through whatever – with me having a family, I can still get my degree and that will hopefully motivate him and his siblings.”

In 2012, when she enrolled at IU Northwest, she was in her late thirties. Determined to show her children the importance of a college education, she found a community of like-minded adult learners and non-traditional students where she belonged.

As she continued her studies, she realized something. “Beyond doing it for them, I wanted to do it for myself,” Dotson said. “The kids gave me the drive originally, but the more I realized it was for myself, the harder I worked. I wanted to take full advantage of every opportunity while at IU Northwest.”

It turns out Dotson overshot the goal of graduating before her oldest son, but for good reason. In exploring her passions, she decided to add a focus in communications. She had found a love for public relations, which complemented her career goals of running an event planning business. So she delayed her graduation another couple of years to meet this goal.

Dotson is currently applying for internships at some of Chicago’s top public relations firms. In addition, she is helping her daughter -- a high school senior whose Commencement is just one day before her mom’s -- narrow down her decision on which university to attend in the fall.

Reflecting on her journey, Dotson’s advice to others who may be hesitant to embark on an IU Northwest education is not to be afraid to make the leap.

“IU Northwest is an institution that will exhaust all resources to help keep students in school,” Dotson said. “Whatever the student is doing to put forth an effort, the resources will somehow be found.”

Dotson added, “Don’t question if you can afford an education, the question should be ‘how can you afford NOT to get an education?’ I had to make sacrifices, but the benefits for the financial security of my future and my children’s futures outweighs those sacrifices in the long run.”

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