BRENHAM, WASHINGTON COUNTY B.J. Faulkner was worried she would receive funny looks when she began taking classes at Blinn College five weeks ago.
“I just knew all these young college kids were going to say, ‘Who’s that grandma with the backpack on?” Faulkner said, laughing.
A 59-year-old motorcyclist who recently earned her GED, Faulkner is learning to navigate college life as a non-traditional student in the Intensive College Readiness (ICR) Program, a grant-based partnership between the Region 6 Education Service Center and the Blinn College - Bryan campus that puts adults on the fast track to earning a degree at no cost to the student.
ICR was recently named one of the top two programs of its kind in the state by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each semester, the program places roughly 47 students who otherwise would not have continued their education on the path to a college degree. Now in its fourth year, the program has transitioned approximately 145 students to Blinn College.
Over the course of eight weeks, students attend class at the Bryan Adult Learning Center four days per week for eight weeks, focusing on reading, writing and math. One day each week, students attend class on the Blinn – Bryan campus to acquaint themselves with college culture and learn to register for courses and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students also learn about education and job opportunities from College faculty and community leaders.
“The majority of these students are first-generation students. They are moms, dads, seniors, people struggling to move away from government assistance and become self-sufficient,” said Sally Ryan, an ICR instructor who underwent the program in its first year. “It can be as simple as not knowing where to park on campus that can deter our students. We want to remove as many barriers as we can to make college a positive, comfortable experience.”
ICR administrators estimate that the program has already saved students close to $75,000 in developmental education costs. On the fifth day of classes, students receive a backpack stocked with school supplies. The semester after completing ICR, when students have completed their first credit-bearing college course with a C or better, they are awarded up to $750 for tuition or a laptop.
Students are expected to turn in 100 percent of their homework and attend class 90 percent of the time.
“We really raise the bar for these students and most of them aren’t used to that,” said Becky Collet, ICR director. “We’re strict, consistent and fair and the students really rise to the occasion.”
Beginning in the Fall semester, ICR will be hosted solely on the Blinn – Bryan campus.
“We couldn’t make the program happen without Blinn,” Collet said. “We feel like we’re at home here and we are so thankful that Blinn administrators realize the benefits of this program.”
When Faulkner stepped into a computer lab on the College’s Bryan campus for the first time, she broke into tears.
“All this time my lack of confidence was holding me back,” Faulkner said. “I knew nothing about computers or going to college before this. I didn’t even believe I would be able to get my GED.”
Though she will celebrate her 60th birthday in May, Faulkner joked she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.
“I just want to help someone somewhere,” she said. “With an education, I can do that. I’m too old now to work on oil rigs and do all the hard labor I used to. As a single mom, I had to do what I had to do for my kids, but now that they’re grown I have to do this for me.”