Spelman expands adult online learning program

Nearly 800 students have gone through Atlanta HBCU program since 2021

When Darlene Perkins realized she had a shot at going to Spelman College, she jumped on it.

A 35-year-old single mother of two living in Detroit, Perkins had taken a few college courses when she was younger but never finished because she was raising her sons.

Then she heard about how her employer, Rocket Mortgage, where she was a business program manager, had signed on to Spelman’s fledgling program targeting adult learners who wanted to earn certificates through online education.

Last fall, Perkins completed Spelman’s “Leading Self, Leading Others” course as part of the online program.

Credit: Darlene Perkins

Credit: Darlene Perkins

“Spelman is a school that has been presented to me since I was a child,” Perkins said. “Now I want to encourage other women like me.”

The Atlanta-based private, historically Black college for women stands out in higher education. It has consistently been ranked as the best HBCU in the country by U.S. News & World Report. It has a 77% six-year graduation rate, according to federal data, the highest of any Black college and one of the highest of any women’s college.

Spelman has built up its reputation over decades through its in-person classes, liberal arts curriculum and recent emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.

In 2021, though, the college for Black women announced it was launching eSpelman in partnership with Guild Education, which works with employers to offer education and so-called upskilling as an employee benefit.

The program was designed for students with at least a high school diploma to provide career-advancing skills and transferrable college credits. The college initially offered certificates in disciplines such as leadership, business essentials and project management.

It’s aimed at reaching “diverse learners” to help increase their career mobility and earning potential, said Spelman President Dr. Helene Gayle.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Spelman is following several other HBCUs, including Morehouse College, which have gone into the online education business to increase revenue while drawing in more students.

Since the first classes in January 2021, Spelman has enrolled 778 students in the program.

All of the eSpelman certificates and courses are designed by Spelman faculty members, and while the program initially targeted adult working learners, it is now open to all learners.

In November, Spelman expanded the program and will offer entrepreneurship and cosmetic science, where students will also explore “historical context that informs beauty practices in communities of African descent,” said chemistry professor Leyte Winfield.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Courses, which run for eight weeks, cost $1,800.

For Perkins, it was well worth it. She said getting her certificate has whetted her appetite to go back to school and get an undergraduate degree.

But since she finished the Spelman program, she has expanded her side business, a mobile laundry service.

She also was promoted at Rocket Mortgage, where she has worked for 10 years. After joining the Spelman program through Rocket Mortgage’s in-house educational program, Rock Academy, she now runs it.

“Spelman gave me the confidence to further the education that I walked away from when I was a young mother,” Perkins said.

Credit: Darlene Perkins

Credit: Darlene Perkins

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