The common fallacy about college education is that it is restricted to students right out of high school. However, the reality is that anyone of any age can start or finish a degree. Alison Koss, a current CSU staff member, began her sociology degree in 1991. This December, she will receive her degree more than 20 years after she took her first steps on campus as a CSU student.
Coming to CSU
Koss found herself at CSU by mere chance. She grew up in Pennsylvania and had only visited Colorado once before applying to the university. Even though Koss never had visited Fort Collins, she chose Colorado State on a whim and began her journey in Colorado by herself. “Maybe I didn’t know it at the time, but I was breaking out from what I knew to do something totally unexpected,” said Koss.
This new life for Koss came to an abrupt halt in her senior year when she found out she was pregnant. Life often presents challenges that force a change of direction. For Koss, this meant the end of her relationship, returning to Pennsylvania to be with her family, and putting her degree on hold in order to prepare for motherhood.
Focus on family
After the birth of her daughter in 1998, Koss’ world in Pennsylvania largely revolved around being a mother, but she always held a desire to return to Fort Collins. For years, Koss continued to wonder about what would have happened if she had not left Colorado. Finally, her curiosity compelled her to reach out to her daughter’s father, who works in the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness at CSU. Koss told him that her love for him had never lapsed and she felt as though he was the missing piece to both her and her daughter’s lives.
Koss’ intention was to send this email in order to let go and move on, but that is not what transpired. Her former boyfriend emailed her back expressing that he shared the same sentiments and he wanted to become a family. They got married in 2015.
Koss waited to move to Fort Collins until her after her daughter’s high school graduation, and her daughter enrolled at CSU the following year. “The reason that made me come back is love,” said Koss. “It sounds cheesy, but he really is my soulmate, and when I was living in Pennsylvania, there was always a piece of me that was missing.”
Returning to CSU
The transition for Koss’ daughter was by no means easy, but in the end everyone was happy. “I’m sure it was hard for her leaving my family, but she was excited to spend time with her dad,” said Koss. Now, her daughter loves CSU and is thriving in the Honors Program as an interdisciplinary liberal arts major.
Koss made a return to CSU as well, with a job as a Program Assistant for CSU’s economics department. When she learned about CSU’s Employee Study Privilege, Koss started to consider the possibility of finishing her degree. The study privilege program allows full-time employees to take courses free of charge in order to continue their educational pursuits alongside their professional pursuits.
Koss remained unsure of whether pursuing her degree was the right choice, asking herself, “Could I really go back to school? Would it take too much time?” This uncertainty was soon put to rest after Economics Professor Anita Alves Pena urged Koss to meet with an advisor to see what she would need to do in order to graduate. After meeting with an advisor, Koss learned that she only needed seven more credit hours to obtain her degree. At that point, Koss knew her choice had been made. “I have to do this. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t do this,” said Koss.
Life as an adult learner
Last Spring, Koss took ‘Introduction to Feminism,’ just to see what it would be like to be in a classroom again. Over the summer, Koss continued her studies with Computer Methods in Sociology and Asian American History and currently is taking Math in the Social Sciences, the last course she needs to graduate. As a full-time employee, Koss’ studies have presented her with challenges. “My biggest concern was time and my biggest challenge is time,” said Koss.
Another challenge for Koss has been her age. “It’s a very different experience sitting in the class as a 20-year-old versus a 40-something-year-old,” said Koss. “There were times that I was discounted, not listened to, and overlooked because of my age.” Despite these challenges, Koss has succeeded in her courses receiving As, a reflection of her hard work and determination.
The support of her family and coworkers has been instrumental to her success. Chair of the Department of Economics, Elissa Braunstein, has allowed Koss the flexibility in her work schedule she needs in order to attend and succeed in her classes. Her husband takes on more so that Koss has more time to devote to reading and studying. Her daughter has helped her readjust to being a student by helping her navigate Canvas and RamWeb and advising her on how to improve her papers. Koss’ daughter has also inspired her to not just pass her classes, but to excel in them. “She has definitely motivated me; she is an amazing student. She is the opposite of who I was at her age,” said Koss.
The significance of this degree runs deep for Koss. Back in December 1996, Koss’ mother came to CSU to watch her walk in Moby Arena even though she did not receive her diploma. “It’s always been this thing inside of me that I lied to my mom and I don’t have this degree,” said Koss. “I don’t need a sociology degree to do the things I do, but it just sat inside of my heart all these years.”
On a professional level, this degree will allow Koss to apply for jobs she previously would not have qualified for, opening countless career possibilities for her. “In one sense I feel like it’s not going to change my life because I’ve lived 20 plus years without it and I’ve had jobs. I make a good living. I have a house. I have a husband. I have a dog. I do the things I want to do,” said Koss.
“On the other hand, there are opportunities that I haven’t had simply because I don’t have a college degree. So, it could change my life in that sense.”
Koss’ remarkable experience embodies the timeless value of education. This December she will walk the same steps she did in Moby more than 20 years ago, but this time she will leave with her well-earned degree.