Access and Equity Access to Education
Getting a degree later in life can be a challenge, but Loyola helps adult learners reach new heights
Throughout a 20-year career as a paralegal, Michelle Cygan (BA ’18) always had it in the back of her mind that she wanted to go back to school for a bachelor’s degree. But her associate’s degree had been enough to get by, and she wasn’t quite sure how she would make it work. Cygan was already juggling being a busy single mom with two sons, and she was hesitant about taking on student debt of her own while saving for her sons’ college education.
But when she found Loyola’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), Cygan realized that getting her degree was a real possiblity. As Loyola’s home for adult learners, SCPS offers bachelor’s degrees and certificate programs for working adults, preparing them for today’s dynamic workplace. When Cygan started researching options for completing her bachelor’s degree, SCPS stood out for making education both accessible and affordable, and its commitment to a transformative experience for its students.
“There’s so many colleges and options out there, but when I think of Loyola, I think of excellence, of prestige. My late grandma had some health issues and her physician was at Loyola, so I knew their reputation and quality,” Cygan says. “And then after researching, Loyola’s flexibility and affordability made it a no-brainer [to choose SCPS]. I earned my associate’s degree from a respected university in Chicago, and that was one of the schools that I looked at to further my education, and they were just not as flexible as Loyola. In fact, at Loyola, I was able to transfer the maximum amount of credits.”
"There’s so many colleges and options out there, but when I think of Loyola, I think of excellence, of prestige."
- Michelle Cygan (BA ’18)
Cygan’s employer, construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, has a program that offers tuition assistance to employees, but Loyola was not initially on their list of approved schools. Cyan was so confident that it was the place for her that she worked with her manager to get Loyola added to the tuition assistance program. Loyola’s SCPS Fellows Program is designed to support these company tuition assistance programs, and provides grants that match employer contributions to tuition. Students are nominated for the fellows program by their employer, which is why it was essential for Cygan to get Loyola onto Caterpillar’s list of partner schools.
“The financial burden of paying for college was intimidating and worrisome. My son was going to graduate from high school the year after I would graduate from Loyola, and normally, as a parent, you’d be thinking about saving for college for him,” she says. “The fellowship made college manageable. I think it would have prolonged [my studies] if I didn’t have it. And at the end, graduating debt-free, it made all the difference.”
Cygan started her degree in 2015, and three years later she graduated with a bachelor of arts in management. Since then, she’s earned a promotion and taken advantage of new opportunities at the office, like helping with the company’s website redesign and offering input on a department restructuring—all based on skills she gained from communications and human resources classes at Loyola. Cygan’s goal was to better contribute at the office and advance her own career opportunities—and she was able to do it all without incurring crippling student debt thanks to the supportive environment at SCPS.