Now or Never: Miller, 77, Proves It’s Never Too Late to Earn Bachelor’s Degree

Jane reading "Who Rules America?" in a home office

There were only two concerns Jane Bell Miller had before starting her educational journey online. One, if she could manage the technology involved. Two, how she would pass a math class after 60 years of not studying the subject.

Miller isn’t like your typical online student. At 77 years young, she set out to complete her bachelor’s degree through Ball State Online.

“Academic success is not about the age of the body or how long since you were last in school,” said Miller. “It has everything to do with determination and a willingness to do whatever it takes.”

Now or Never

Rather than attending college after graduating from high school in 1958 – a decision she’s always regretted – Miller began working as a secretary at the University of Virginia. However, throughout the course of her 40-year secretarial career, Miller picked up enough credits at community college to earn her associate degree in 1997.

Twenty years later, Miller decided that if she was going to earn her bachelor’s degree, it was now or never. Ball State Online academic advisor, Laura Waldron, helped Miller determine which of her prior courses would transfer into the bachelor of general studies program.

“Taking that first step is the hardest. From then on, it’s just a matter of following through on the next step, and the next,” said Miller. “I credit Ball State’s staff with making my online learning experience so successful.”

Miller has never felt disconnected to her instructors or classmates, even though her classes are completely online. In fact, being an online student has given her the freedom to open up in assignments and discussion boards in a way that might otherwise be intimidating in a classroom setting.

A Fueling Factor

Completing her education means more to Miller than just a diploma; it’s also a way to keep her mind active and sharp at her age.

“A factor fueling my focus on education is that my mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s, so I am willing to do anything in my power to try to avoid the same fate. Luckily for me, I thoroughly enjoy the process of learning,” said Miller.

It’s evident Miller’s doing just that, as proof of the 4.0 GPA she’s maintained every semester at Ball State.

“It is so satisfying to see that my brain can handle the material just as well as a 20-year-old [student],” said Miller.

Never Stop Learning

Miller is set to graduate in May 2019 with a bachelor’s in general studies, but admits that her learning will not stop there. After graduation, she plans to resume piano lessons and work to improve her bridge game as a way to continue exercising her brain.

“I had held back for years before looking into finishing my degree,” said Miller. “I’m so glad I decided, ‘It’s now or never.’ ”

As for that math class, Miller proved once again that there wasn’t a challenge she couldn’t tackle. She did, however, make sure to celebrate her passing grade and no longer needing to study probabilities and statistics again.

Kat Parker Enrolls in Ball State Online to Finish What She Started

After dropping out of Ball State 30 years ago, Kat Parker of Indiana recently returned to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in general studies. For Parker, returning to school was not about pursuing a new career, but achieving an old goal—for herself, her children, and her mother, now deceased. Today Parker serves as a Ball State student ambassador to other online students returning to college.

Q: What motivated you to return to college to pursue your degree?

A: Back in 1987, I had poor study habits and poor time management skills which – combined with a strong taste for independence and a love of socializing – did not make for a successful student. I quit Ball State within a year. As I got older, I regretted the wasted opportunity and hated feeling like a quitter. I also regretted disappointing my mother by dropping out. When she passed away and my oldest daughter was getting ready to leave for college, I wanted to prove to myself that I could go back to college and be a better student. I wanted to show my daughters that it is never too late to learn, and I wanted to honor my mother’s desire for me to earn a college degree.

Q: Can you give a specific example of how your education has helped you in the workplace already?

A: I am currently taking a business writing course. I recently was able to use what I have learned to carefully compose an email to [middle school] administrators about some issues that needed attention. Using the 3×3 writing process really helped me make my key points clear and concise so I did not overwhelm the recipient with needless information. The administrators, as a result, have been positive in their responses to my concerns.

Q: How do you balance your education and your career?

A: I have been a student now for more than three years, and I still struggle finding balance. When I am at work, I think about the things I need to do for school and at home. When I am studying, I am thinking about what I need to do for work. It is a rough cycle. It really comes down to finding a good time management system that works for you. I try to list everything I need to do for school, work, and home into one calendar to help me keep track of what I need to be doing.

Q: What motivated you to become a Ball State Online Student Ambassador?

A: It had been more than 25 years since I had been a student in college and a lot had changed. I wished there was someone to guide me through the Blackboard system and tell me what to expect as an online student. I was overwhelmed and almost quit my first couple of weeks because I felt like I was not prepared for all the changes. When I read about the Ambassador program, I saw this not only as an opportunity to get involved with the university, but also to meet new online students who might be looking for someone to help them through their first semester.

Student/Police Officer Says Ball State Online “Has Made the Impossible Possible”

Even though Jason Boring planned to enroll in an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice program, he liked the idea that Ball State was not hundreds of miles away. He had grown up in east central Indiana so he knew the university projected credibility.

An officer for New Castle Police Department, Boring was looking toward the day he would retire—at a young 45—and begin a second career in criminal justice.

With family responsibilities that include four children, he knew it would be impossible to study on campus or even attend full time online. But realizing it was time to finish his bachelor’s, he enrolled in Ball State’s online undergraduate degree in criminal justice and criminology in 2015.

Q: You’ve been pursuing your degree one class at a time, correct?

A: Being able to work on the online classes piecemeal has been a huge help. So I read a chapter, I do a quiz, then I take a test once the kids are in bed. My Kindle and the ease and mobility with which I can read my textbooks has greatly helped. Online classes allow me to take smaller bites, but still make very real progress on my degree. It has made the impossible possible. I am not in a particular hurry to graduate because I’ll be working 20 years to gain my pension.

Q: Have you had to adapt to online education?

A: This is the first experience I have had with online study. My main challenges have been adapting my learning style to a more self-reliant approach. Online study has been harder for me than having a professor and classroom time. Scheduling has been a struggle, too, due to my work and other family obligations. However, the professors have been very accessible to me via phone, text, e-mail. My advisors, too, have been very quick to help. They have helped me get the classes I need.

Q: What will your degree do for your second career?

A: I would like to transition my career from a police officer “on the street” to a management-related position within law enforcement, such as probation. I also enjoy teaching so I might go for my master’s and teach at a community college or at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy as well. Regardless of which particular field I enter after retirement, a BA degree from Ball State will help me greatly on my way. I think that it will strengthen my skill set and help open doors in the future.

Early Childhood Teacher Finds Confidence Online

Iva Sumwalt wasn’t sure that online education was for her – she considered herself a traditional student who could only be successful in a classroom setting. Plus, she was juggling a full-time job and her family with her education. However, when she found Ball State’s bachelor’s degree completion program in early childhood education, she knew she’d found the right fit.

“Ball State’s tuition was less, which was an important factor. And the program allows you to do your classroom observations and practicum at your own site, so you don’t lose work, time, or money.”

Q: Why did you choose this program?

It sparked my interest that this was a program designed for childcare professionals who work full time and because the professors who are teaching the online classes are the same early childhood faculty who are teaching classes on campus.

Ball State’s tuition was less, which was an important factor. And the program allows you to do your classroom observations and practicum at your own site, so you don’t lose work, time, or money.

Q: Any surprises?

This program made me believe that I could actually do this – that I could get a degree online. I had to motivate myself to succeed, and I was responsible for effectively managing my time and resources. I’m “old school” and I thought I needed face-to-face instruction all the time, but I learned that I can take classes without sitting in front of a professor.

I also connected more to classmates online than I would have in a traditional classroom. I was able to connect with them on an individual basis because we were working in the same field.
I was also surprised that I didn’t have to be a computer expert to complete these classes.

Q: Why was online education right for you?

Online education was right for me because I had to commit and follow through. Flexibility is another great advantage. I could access my courses anytime and anywhere as long as I had Internet. I could pause videos of lectures so that I could write notes down and then go back to the lecture.

Q: Were there faculty or advisors who were particularly helpful? 

My advisor, Katie Benson, was great. She kept me updated with class information and on what to expect in the upcoming semesters.

The faculty were great, too. They understood me as a person and a full-time employee. I had a few professors for multiple classes and got to know them quite well. Sometimes they would email me to see how I was doing in my classes and that meant a lot to me.


At Turning Point, RN Finds Bachelor’s Completion Track

A missed promotion led Alma Ahmetovic to Ball State’s RN-to-BS nursing degree completion program, offered fully online, and a second chance at a job she wanted.

“I liked how well the professors explained the syllabus and course requirements and answered your email right away.”


When Alma Ahmetovic didn’t get promoted to director of nursing at the retirement home where she had worked for 14 years, it was a turning point in the RN’s career.

After conducting a bachelor’s degree search, Ahmetovic ventured into Ball State’s registered nurse to bachelor’s of science in nursing completion track, which is offered fully online.

“I didn’t know what to expect since I had been out of school for a few years and had never taken online classes before.”


Like many students new to the online experience, Ahmetovic was worried about fundamentals such as signing up for classes and submitting assignments and exams. But faculty and online advisors were there to provide support.

“The program was so organized,” she says. “I liked how well the professors explained the syllabus and course requirements and answered your emails right away. I never had to wait longer than a few hours or one day at the most.”


Ahmetovic completed her BSN in July of 2014, graduating cum laude.

But before she had even finished the program, the position of director of nursing became available again. To Ahmetovic, an offer of promotion was extended – and accepted. With her eyes on another promotion and at the encouragement of the nursing faculty, she is now pursuing the leadership and administration track of Ball State’s online master’s of science in nursing.

Ahmetovic is now director of health care services and she gives credit to Ball State professors: “I just loved my instructors. They wanted their students to learn, advance, and succeed.”

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