Dedicating four to six years toward achieving a goal can be an overwhelming experience.
Tracy Pellet knows that first hand, serving as dean of academic affairs for the College of Coastal Georgia. Every semester, he sees students speeding toward a traditional bachelor's degree only to be derailed by life's roadblocks.
All too often, those hurdles can lead to students brushing off their dreams of obtaining a higher education.
"We at the college want to encourage our students as much as we can, to help them succeed as far in their education as they can," Pellet said. "Motivation goes hand in hand with education."
To further that point, Pellet is working to assist students in feeling positive about their educational achievements at every level. New this semester is a program Pellet has put into play to encourage students to keep up their efforts toward education, even if it isn't all at once.
"This is brand spanking new to us, and I am very excited about it and the long term impacts this program can have on our campus and in the lives of our students," Pellet said.
The new Mariner Milestone Initiative, which Pellet has launched, works with students to signify important time periods in the life cycle of a student, particularly students who initially intend to complete a baccalaureate degree but are met with challenges.
"Creating and encouraging the completion of milestone markers (such as) one year certificates or an associate's degree has the potential to encourage students to continue on and provide a tangible credential if they chose not or cannot complete a baccalaureate degree or next milestone," Pellet said.
Through the initiative, students are awarded certificates of achievement at certain benchmarks in their education, such as one-year degrees. The idea is to create other milestones, besides an associate degree, which will be motivating, he said.
According to the 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with an associate degree earn, on average, $126 more per week than a worker with only a high school diploma and $50 more per week than a worker with only some college credit but no degree.
The associate degree-awarding initiative is supportive of the University System of Georgia's Associate Degree You Deserve initiative, which launched last year.
The initiative is an effort to increase the number of Georgia citizens with associate's degrees by identifying former students who have met the requirements for the degree but have not actually received it.
The new milestone program at the college is consistent with best practices recommended by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Pellet said.
The idea of the new program hit home with Pellet when he saw the numbers. At the end of the 2016 spring semester, of the 158 students eligible to earn an associates degree, only 12 students have submitted the paperwork to do so.
Granted, a majority of those students who did not submit paperwork are planning to obtain bachelor's degree, but Pellet hopes that even those planning on moving forward in their education will reach out for milestone markers to help in the event that they need to exit college at some point.
Knowing various changes and events can derail or prolong the completion of a baccalaureate degree, Pellet said it is critical for students to obtain a credential when it has been earned.
A diploma of some sort can be the visible reminder for students to motivate them to continue their studies and meet their eventual educational goals of a baccalaureate degree and beyond, he said.
"Work, family, financial issues, these are all barriers our students may face along the way as they try to earn their degree," Pellet said. "With these milestone certificates, if they do have to alter their educational plans, at least they will have a marker to show for the hard work they have completed."
The certificates through the milestone program will be recognized in smaller-scaled, so-called graduation ceremonies for students.
"The college currently marks significant times in the life of a student, including convocation and commencement, but little has been implemented that denotes accomplishment between these two time periods," he said. "We're hoping to change that with this new program."