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Graduate program expansion in Cumming provides more opportunity

At age 50, Bruce Wing, president of Strategic Wealth LLC in Alpharetta, Georgia, decided it was time to go back to school. First, he wanted to get a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and then a doctorate so he can eventually teach at the college level.

Graduate students Cumming
A growing number of people are enrolling in graduate programs at UNG’s Cumming Campus, which has experienced a 231 percent increase in graduate enrollment since 2015. Increased interest has resulted in an expansion of degrees offered as well.

"The University of North Georgia (UNG) is an excellent school with a very good reputation and I personally know several of its excellent professors," Wing said. "As the 'old guy' going back to school, it's fun to talk with talented men and women a generation younger than me. I like to think that my past experience as a senior officer for a Fortune 500 company and my current experience as an entrepreneur add a little color to the classroom discussions."

Wing is one of a growing number of people enrolling in graduate programs at UNG’s Cumming Campus, which has experienced a 231 percent increase in graduate enrollment since 2015, from just 42 students in 2015 to 139 in fall 2017, according to the latest numbers available. This summer, 136 of the 585 graduate students at UNG are taking the majority of their courses in Cumming. Many of those are enrolled in the MBA program offered at Cumming City Hall through UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business.

"The diversity of students in our MBA program adds a lot of value to the classroom conversation and the learning experience," said Steven M. Kronenberg, director of graduate programs for the Mike Cottrell College of Business.  "Our students range from those with years of corporate experience like Bruce to students who are just getting started. These students also come from a variety of industries, which further enhances the classroom experience."

UNG considers industry needs when deciding on degrees offered, especially for new degrees. According to the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL), the job sectors of business management and educational services are growing across the state, with 7,380 more managers needed just by 2019 and 18,800 more needed in educational services. On the master's degree level, three of the "hot" careers through 2026 according to GDOL are in education administration, educational guidance and healthcare social workers — representing two of the four graduate degrees offered in Cumming.

"Convenience to UNG's Cumming Campus is a big factor for many living and working in the Georgia 400 corridor that includes Forsyth County and north Fulton County, where there are few options for higher education — especially graduate programs," said Jason Pruitt, executive director of UNG's Cumming Campus.

While the mantra in real estate may be "location, location, location," that wasn't the only factor for Wing, who lives in Cumming.

"The location, with classes in downtown Cumming, and the price of the MBA program are both excellent," Wing said.

April Sledge lives in Canton, Georgia, works in Woodstock, Georgia, and is pursuing an MBA with a certificate in entrepreneurship on the Cumming Campus. Sledge started her own business, Photography at Dawn LLC, three years ago and has built it to four employees, including herself. She's already applying the lessons she learns every day in class to her business.

For Sledge, getting pregnant while pursuing her degree was not part of her plan, but she's making it work. She finds support from friends, family, employees, and even classmates.

"I would say the best way I have found is to embrace a support system and make sure you use every leg of that support," Sledge said, adding her husband and family has supported her 100 percent. "My cohort, teachers and advisors have been nothing but insightful, helpful and reassuring that I can still make it through this program even with a soon-to-be newborn." 

Wing has learned how to balance work, life and school, but things didn't start off well. Sacrifices had to be made.

"I initially tried to balance work, family, nonprofit commitments, and school and I did not manage my nonprofit commitments well," Wing said. "As a result, I had to step back from my nonprofit involvement. Once that was done, managing work, family and A-level work in an MBA program was relatively easy. It's simply a matter of discipline. Plan your work and work your plan."

Wing and Sledge have the same advice for those working full-time but contemplating returning to the classroom: Just do it.

"I considered earning my MBA in my early 30s and didn't do it because I was already a senior vice president for a large firm. That was a short-sighted decision," Wing said. "With the benefit of hindsight, experience and a little wisdom I gained from the errors I've made along the way, I can tell you that it is always better to have options available to you that you can turn down because you have the MBA than not having options available to you because a position requires an MBA."

Sledge agrees.

"I have had the nay-sayers but just know they will be in the dust in just a year and a half," she said. "I never enjoyed a program as much as I have this one. You won’t regret it, believe in yourself." 

In addition to the MBA, other graduate degrees offered by UNG in Cumming include the Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education through the College of Education and Master of Science in Counseling through the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

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