Elevated Aspirations: DegreeLink graduate utilizes continuing education for personal, career goals

June 19, 2013

When John Duncan abandoned his high school lessons at 17, he never imagined that he would eventually meander back into a classroom years later - as a college instructor.

The skilled tradesman's unusual life path has included an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College and a bachelor's degree from Indiana State University through DegreeLink, a program for students at two-year colleges to complete their four-year degrees via distance education.

For Duncan, DegreeLink facilitated a route through life that has gone from abandoning high school to attaining a bachelor's in adult career education and becoming an Ivy Tech instructor who encourages his students to continue their educational pursuits beyond a two-year degree.

"Education does pay off, especially if you have a technical background," said Duncan, who received the distinguished alumni award from Ivy Tech, Lafayette at the college's spring commencement ceremony. "Technical fields today are where it's at."

Duncan dropped out of high school, convinced that the compulsory school system had little to offer him. From there he worked a number of low-skill jobs - digging ditches, washing dishes, mowing lawns. He eventually found his way to a factory in Monticello, where his employer one day announced that they were bringing Ivy Tech Instructors in to provide classes to improve employees' skills.

Duncan attended the classes in hopes of getting a bump in pay. They ended up changing his life.

"I took their classes, completed them," Duncan said, "and it was that initial exposure that set me on my higher education path."

He began taking classes on a part-time basis in 1992, ultimately completing his associate degree in industrial technology in 2000. One night, while in the student lounge at the Ivy Tech campus in Lafayette, he noticed a poster from Indiana State advertising the DegreeLink program.

Duncan researched the program, and in 2002 he began his pursuit of a four-year degree from Indiana State's adult career education program.

"That's really a very relevant subject matter today, and it ties in really well with the nontraditional student, and keeping people on the (education) path, even if it's at a part-time pace," Duncan said. "I advocate pretty heavily for keeping and strengthening those pathways for people to go to school."

While taking classes at Indiana State, he started teaching as an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech. Duncan also kept working full-time, even completing several technical certifications and two four-year apprenticeships. He attained several highly competitive openings through the years, he said, because his education helped set him apart while also preparing him for hiring exams and interviews.

"You can make a good living and you can still continue your education like I did," said Duncan, who currently is an elevator mechanic at Purdue University, where two of his daughters attend college on scholarships and where he is halfway through his graduate degree work in career and technical education. "We fail to realize that today, and that's one of the biggest things my efforts are focused on - the non-traditional journey as an alternative pathway to success. Because you follow a different path or a slower trajectory doesn't mean you can't reach a level of success that goes beyond even those who have had the good fortune to have journeyed along a traditional education pathway. I know, because I've done it."

Indiana State offers bachelor's degree completion programs via DegreeLink in 11 areas, from accounting to insurance and risk management, and even nursing and technology management. In the past year, nearly 250 Sycamores have attained their bachelor's degree through the program, which is expected to have two more majors added in the next year.

"DegreeLink really helps ISU contribute to the state's goal of increasing the number of Hoosiers who have postsecondary credentials," said Ken Brauchle, dean of Extended Learning at Indiana State. "It allows people to complete a bachelor's degree anywhere without having to relocate, uproot their family or quit their jobs."

ISU also has more than 70 articulation agreements with Ivy Tech for students who complete their associate degree and want to continue their education.

"We have a great relationship with Ivy Tech, and they have worked diligently with us to help their graduates continue pursuing their four-year degrees at Indiana State, including in many of our technology programs," said Bradford Sims, dean of the College of Technology at Indiana State. "We are always pleased to hear of students like John Duncan who have taken advantage of the programs that Indiana State has for students of all ages and professional backgrounds to further their education."

While it took Duncan longer to complete his bachelor's degree on his non-traditional path, he points out that he graduated with no student debt. That is particularly significant, as the national student debt currently stands at more than $1 trillion.

"Gaining a high-skill high-demand technically focused education is just one step in the process of personal development," he added. "You build on it, 2+2 (years of education), you continue on and that's where you achieve real success. It isn't stopping with just a technical expertise, it's tying that in with the academic, the cognitive, that will allow you true upward mobility and to live a more rewarding life. I've done quite a bit in my time, even as a high school dropout, because I never let my position in life limit my goals for my life."The "nontraditional" student is in fact the traditional one, as they are a majority of students pursuing a postsecondary education, Duncan said. He quotes a report by Commission on Higher Education that reports that 59 percent of Indiana college students are attending part-time. He continuously points that out to his students, particularly those students he knows who are finishing their coursework for an associate degree.

"Lifelong learning means you learn the entirety of your life, so you're always a learner," Duncan said. "If you're fortunate, you get to give back to that process, and that's where I'm at. I'm a lifelong learner giving back, happily."

For more information on DegreeLink, including the different programs that are available, visit www.indstate.edu/degreelink

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-gcrRKKw/0/L/i-gcrRKKw-L.jpg (Submitted photo)John Duncan, who utilized DegreeLink in his studies at Indiana State University as he graduated with a bachelor's degree in adult career education

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-Cg5Xj88/0/S/i-Cg5Xj88-S.jpgA poster similar to this one promoting DegreeLink prompted John Duncan to research the opportunities that existed to continue his education at Indiana State University. Duncan utilized DegreeLink to complete his bachelor's degree after earning his associate degree at Ivy Tech Community College.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Headshot-Proofs/Ken-Brauchle/i-njXGgnx/0/L/_DSC7427KenBrauchle-L.jpg Ken Brauchle, dean of Extended Learning at Indiana State University

Media Contact and Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

For John Duncan, DegreeLink facilitated a route through life that has gone from abandoning high school to attaining a bachelor's degree in adult career education and becoming an Ivy Tech instructor encouraging students to continue their education.

See Also:

Expo showcases Air Guard, Indiana State University partnership

Pharmacy research project concludes with call for reform

Sycamore aviators take to the air in search of a win

Technology alumnus builds a foundation of success

Technology students develop mobile app for local nonprofit

Indiana State colleges of business, technology partner on Tech Express Cafe