Business is booming with Saturday school

Keith Patterson received his associate's degree from the University of Akron in 1984. He had always planned on going back to school to get his bachelor's degree in business.

Somehow life always got in the way, and before he knew it, Patterson was approaching 50 and had not reached his goal. He attempted to go back to school a couple of times over the years, but working full time and raising a family took priority.

That changed after he lost his job in 2006. He and his wife, Tina, had always dreamed of moving to the Lowcountry from their home in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. When Keith was offered a job as regional credit manager for Great Dane Trailers in Savannah, the couple packed up and headed south.

A few years later, Patterson heard about a Saturday business program at the Bluffton campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort. It sounded like a perfect fit. The program would allow him to keep working full time and work on his degree on Saturdays.

"This time around it was like, 'Three's a charm,'" the 52-year-old Bluffton man said about his final attempt to go back to school. "With the university location in basically my backyard, my company agreeing to reimbursement, how the program was tailored, there were so many pluses to it. ... This road map couldn't have been better laid out than what it was for me."

USCB's Saturday Business Degree Plan coordinator Dr. Peter Swift said the flexibility of the Saturday program is what makes it a good choice for working adults who already have many general education credits out of the way.

"Everybody says what they like about the program is it's predictable," Swift said. "They can see the end, which for many of them was one of the reasons they dropped out. They just didn't have a structured program. ... This becomes part of their week for two years."

Swift said the Saturday business students stick together as a cohort throughout the two-year program. They attend business classes from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. Many of them also take evening courses during the week to make up general education requirements. Swift said the school has recently added some of the more popular general education courses to a Saturday schedule.

"The reality is that students now are working more," Swift said. "When I went to college way back in the '70s, students didn't work anywhere near as much as they do now. ... All the students in the program do have jobs, pretty much. And that's why Saturday works perfectly for their schedule."

Patterson, who began the program in January 2009, continued to work 40 to 45 hours a week while completing his business degree. He said he would study for an hour during his lunch break at work and in the evenings after dinner.

After a little more than two years of hard work, Patterson received his long-awaited bachelor's degree April 29. He and 16 others were the first group to graduate from the Saturday program since it began in 2008. Patterson plans to stay at Great Dane Trailers but hopes his new degree will lead to more responsibility and diversity in his job.

Working in corporate credit for the past 20 years or so, he said he already knew a lot about business before starting the USCB program. But he said he learned a lot of new techniques and gained a new understanding on how to be a better manager. He said the upper-level management courses have given him a greater insight into today's styles of management and what works in a business environment.

"It's kind of a bittersweet coming to a close and finally getting that piece of paper and the recognition," Patterson said. "Now not only do I have the qualifications but also the degree."