Great-grandmother receives South Louisiana Community College diploma Thursday

Nontraditional student touts value of education

Betty Andrews-Hall retired six years ago from her job as a clerk processing Medicare claims, but the economy sent her back into the workforce where she found it difficult to find a job in her field again.

“Back in my day, you could get an interview and get a job. Now, you have to stand out with your education,” said Andrews-Hall, 61.

She started over in another field — telecommunications — but lost that job when the company closed its doors in Lafayette. So two years ago, Andrews-Hall did what she put off for about 25 years — she returned to college.

“At first it was scary,” Andrews-Hall said about returning to school, “but it produced an opportunity.”

On Thursday, she joined more than 450 other South Louisiana Community College graduates who received degrees and technical diplomas during a ceremony held at the Cajundome Convention Center. She received a technical diploma in business office technology with a concentration on the medical field. She said the program provided her insights into how the industry has changed over the years and prepared her for the jobs she’s now seeking.

Andrews-Hall’s story isn’t unlike the majority of students who seek out degree programs and technical training at one of the college’s campuses across Acadiana, said Natalie Harder, SLCC chancellor.

“Our community is catching up with communities around the country in recognizing that a high school diploma really isn’t a door opener for jobs and opportunities the way it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Harder said. “Very often, we see individuals who are looking for a second career, who want to advance within their chosen industry, come back to us and say, ‘I need a certain credential, a certain diploma or a technical certificate before I can get in the door.’ ”

The college spent the past semester revamping most of its technical programs to shorten training time and move students toward jobs more quickly. In response to workforce demands, the college also will add two new associate degree programs in accounting and software application development, Harder said. Both career fields have been identified as high-need areas for employees within the next 10 years. The software application development program will be the first, two-year program in the state.

“There’s such a demand for customizing software. It’s clearly an area where you don’t need a four- or six-year degree. You can make a good living with a two-year associate’s degree,” Harder said.

For Andrews-Hall, the road to college was one she deferred to earn a living and raise her family. She left high school in 1968 to have her son and, in 1985, earned her GED certificate. At the time, she had planned to start college, but, again, the need to work and care for her family took precedence. Over the years, her family grew to include not only her own three children, but her husband’s five children and, then, their two nieces, whom they raised as their own. The couple became grandparents, then, great-grandparents.

It’s been a rich life, and she said she hopes returning to the workforce will ensure opportunities for her and her husband to enjoy their retirement.

Andrews-Hall has started her job search again with an interview under her belt and more planned in the week after graduation.

“I learned more from working on this degree about the technical side and what (employers) are looking for,” she said. “I want to go to work so we can enjoy our wonder years and do some of the things that we didn’t get to do because we were working all our lives.”

It’s also a goal of hers to help others receive an education. Last year, Andrews-Hall received a Pay-It-Forward scholarship, a scholarship program funded by local attorney Glenn Armentor in recognition of those who helped him reach his own potential. The great-grandmother said she hopes to repay the kindness by helping other students.

“It takes a burden off so you can concentrate on your education,” Andrews-Hall said of the scholarship help. “I’d love to be one of the people who could do that for someone else.”

She also has advice to share for her classmates who are considering putting their education on hold: “Don’t pass up the opportunity to get an education. I put it off and put it off and now, I’m back in my 60s because I can’t find a job. You need that education even for the minutest job.”