For one member of the Tennessee General Assembly, going back to college has been an education in more ways than one.
State Rep. Mike Sparks received his bachelor's degree in liberal studies during the MTSU commencement ceremony this past Saturday, Dec. 12.
Sparks holds an associate degree in mass communication from Motlow State Community College, but life interrupted his plans for a four-year degree. Working nights at Nissan and trying to maintain a family life didn't leave much room for studying.
"I've always wanted to go back," said the Smyrna Republican. "Being elected afforded me the opportunity to go to school."
MTSU's Adult Degree Completion Program meets the needs of adult learners like Sparks by offering the entire curriculum online. Sparks obtained his degree through a mix of on-campus and online courses.
"This allows the adult students to fulfill education goals without uprooting family and leaving their jobs to move to Murfreesboro," said Dr. David Gotcher, interim dean of MTSU's University College.
"Additionally, those in University College who work specifically with adult learners are specially trained to do so and provide very personalized help to each individual student."
Furthermore, MTSU is the only public university in Tennessee to be awarded the Adult Learning Focused Institution designation from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Sparks admits the work was challenging, but his wife of 27 years, Felicia, was very supportive. His adult venture into academia gave him additional insight into the college student's twin challenges of finding a job and paying off student debt.
Sparks has represented District 49 in the Tennessee House of Representatives since January 2011. His prior experience with elective office comes from his tenure as a Rutherford County commissioner from 2002 to 2010.
"I believe it'll help me be a little bit more well-rounded," Sparks said.
In fact, this member of the Smyrna Rotary Club and the National Federation of Independent Businesses is considering entering graduate school at MTSU to pursue a master's degree in business administration. He said he thinks it will help him better understand the state's fiscal issues.
"The Adult Degree Completion Program, of which the bachelor's degree in liberal studies is a part, is designed to allow adult learners to fulfill their education goals," said Gotcher. "They can do this by maximizing what they have already learned that is of college-level quality."