Dr. Gordon Mapley understands that sometimes, life gets in the way of a college degree. As executive director of the Western Institute, he knew there were many people in St. Joseph who had a lot of credit hours without completing a degree, and he wanted to figure out a way to help them finish their college education, earn a bachelor’s degree and possibly advance their careers.

With those goals in mind, a new degree program was created for students with 75 credit hours or more – the Bachelor of General Studies – and Missouri Western began offering it in the fall of 2013. To date, 110 students have graduated with the BGS degree.

Dr. Mapley explained that the BGS degree, which he calls a “completion degree,” requires the same amount of hours as any other bachelor’s degree from the University and it has the same requirements for general studies courses and upper level courses. The difference, he said, is that instead of choosing one major, the student chooses two minors (concentrations).

In most cases, many of the hours they have already earned count toward at least one of the minors, which reduces the hours they need to graduate. Dr. Mapley said the minors can even be customized if students earned hours from a different university.

Eric Kramer, academic advisor in the Western Institute, said last year, graduates in the BGS program needed an average of 34 hours to complete a degree, and it took them an average of three semesters and one summer to do it. However, he said he has worked with some graduates whose credits already fit into the BGS degree, and they only needed to apply for graduation.

Kramer said the degree can be for students who have been taking courses for several years, but changed majors a lot so they have credit hours in a variety of programs. Or, it could be students who earned a lot of hours in one field and decided that it wasn’t the career field for them.

“Many started out as traditional students, and then life happened,” said Dr. Melody Smith, interim assistant dean of the Western Institute, who also works with the degree program.

That was the case for Bridget Blevins ’16 who recently earned the degree.

Blevins, director of communications for the St. Joseph School District, had earned an associate degree from Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas right after she graduated from high school, and she transferred to Missouri Western to earn a communication degree. When she started working for KQTV full-time as a student, she continued taking classes, but realized her hectic work schedule made it too difficult.

“Being in media is demanding, and there was no such thing as normal work hours,” she said. “It became too difficult to get to class on time, or even to get to class.”

With her education on hold, Blevins stayed in the television business for 17 years, advancing to news director and anchor before she left KQTV last year.

When she returned to Missouri Western in 2015 to earn the BGS degree, she needed just 16 credit hours to graduate and had already earned the hours she needed for a communication minor. Blevins took all the classes she needed online to earn a psychology minor, and was ready to graduate within a year of returning.

“Part of me was embarrassed that it took me so long to get a degree,” she said. “I was able to find success and work my way up in my career, but getting that degree was about finishing what I started. I was really proud.”

Blevins also noted that she would not have been able to apply for her current position without the degree.

Many of the students working on the BGS degree are primarily or entirely taking online courses, and Missouri Western’s online course offerings have continued to grow. Most of those returning to college to earn the BGS degree are working full-time, Dr. Mapley said, and earning all the credits they need in a physical classroom just isn’t possible.

Since Missouri Western began the initiative to grow its online programming, the number of titles in the inventory has grown from 30 in 2008 to 302 in 2016. There were 257 active online titles in fall 2016.

Blevins said she probably would not have been able to complete her degree without the online option.

For more information about the BGS degree, go to missouriwestern.edu/completion or call the Western Institute at (816) 271-4100.

“We really are transforming lives through the power of education,” Dr. Mapley said.