Proof that there is a college for working adults with busy lives [student case study]


Posted In: Case Studies, Students

Jun • 20 • 2015

“I used to wait for people to come to me for new promotion opportunities. But now I have a better sense of my potential and have started taking the initiative.”

Darby Conley, an enterprise benefit administration director at Anthem, understands the challenges and frustrations of trying to earn a degree with a family and full work schedule. She tried multiple times, and fortunately the fourth time was a charm. What finally pushed her to get it done, even with the recent birth of her third child? Her drive combined with the affordable cost and flexibility of College for America at Southern New Hampshire University.

After high school, Darby was accepted to a prestigious university, but decided to pursue other interests. She took the occasional class, but never got excited about school and ended up taking a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which became Anthem. Darby’s career accelerated quickly.

“I was a customer service rep and then I moved to a team lead, to a trainer, to manager and then to a director position,” she said.

According to Darby, as she advanced through the ranks her mentors also began putting pressure on her to get a college degree. At first, she was resistant.

“There was always some excuse,” she explained. “I would say, I can’t do this because I’ve got the baby. And I can’t do this because I’m getting married. And oh, now I’ve taken on a new job.”

Finally after about six years at Anthem, she tried jumping back into university classes.

“I finished two classes, but it was tough because I had to build my work and family schedule around the class schedule,” she explained.

Darby said she quickly grew frustrated because the coursework wasn’t very applicable to her day-to-day job and she had a hard time relating to the younger, less experienced students, so she did not re-enroll.  After a couple more years, she decided to try a private online university because she thought it would be more convenient for her schedule. It turned out that she felt more like a number and dollar sign to the new school and that once again the coursework didn’t feel relevant to her job.

Eventually, Anthem’s human resources department and its president reached out to Darby about an accredited college degree program they wanted her to try.

“My initial reaction, was ‘here we go again,’ but I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I thought it was worth a shot,” she said. “I was actually pregnant with my third child at the time and had lots of excuses, but the fact that the program wasn’t on a set schedule took the pressure off and made me want to give it a go.”

The flexibility of the program and the support of her family and Anthem turned out to be the key to Darby’s ability to finally get her degree. Darby said she was also surprised by how relevant the work she did at College for America was to her job.

“With my other college experiences, it always felt like I was just memorizing stuff for a test. At CfA, it’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about mastery and building a case behind why you believe what you believe,” said Darby. “That’s real competency.”

Darby was also surprised by the fact that she already had a lot of skills she didn’t know she had. For example, she had done plenty of presentations breaking down the performance of her department, but she had never taken a statistics course. CfA helped her make links between formal terminology and her existing knowledge. Ultimately, she said that her work at College for America has not only improved her efficiency at work, but it’s also reinforced her confidence and a desire for learning.

Since completing her associate’s degree she was invited into a winning leaders program at Anthem, and she’s enrolled in College for America’s Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She’s also been looking for opportunities to move up within Anthem.

“I used to wait for people to come to me for new promotion opportunities. But now I have a better sense of my potential and have started taking the initiative,” Darby said. “It’s been really exciting and kind of mind blowing,” she added.