Sheriff’s office ‘SOARS’ in encouraging education

CSRA News
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WAYNESBORO, GA – (True Citizen)

A college degree is something Capt. Jerry Blash of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office said he believes can make an impact upon one’s future, so he and Sheriff Alfonzo Williams worked alongside administrators at Faulkner College to make online courses more affordable, by 25 percentage off regular tuition, for the entire community of Waynesboro.

The main requirement is that a prospective student provide a copy of a current driver’s license as proof of residency in Burke County. Students also must be continuously enrolled, including during the summer, until completion of the degree, according to the guidelines of the Burke County/Faulkner University SOARS Initiative that Williams and Blash co-authored.

While certain graduate programs are exempt, and the discount applies only to online programs, many graduate and undergraduate programs are still eligible for this special tuition price, said Alison Cahoon, Director of Executive and Professional Enrollment.

In his experience as a prospective job hunter, Blash said he has seen firsthand the difference that a degree can make in meeting an employer’s expected qualifications.

Having known one another for almost two decades, Blash said Williams, who already possesses a master’s degree in education, has always touted the importance of continuing one’s education and the effect it can have on one’s career choices.

Earlier in May, Williams and Blash both graduated from Faulkner with master’s degrees in justice administration after the completion of 14 months’ worth of course work.

“We’ve always motivated one another,” said Blash, referencing his and Williams’ decision to enroll together in the Master of Justice Administration program at Faulkner University, a private Christian university in Montgomery, Ala., which provides online courses specifically so that out-of-state students can complete their degrees.

When Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard returned from a conference with a flier from Faulkner University announcing discounts for members of law enforcement seeking to continue their education, Williams and Blash sat down and had a conversation about what this might mean, not only for themselves, but for others.

Blash had just completed a bachelor’s degree and, admittedly, was “tired of school,” but Williams said that their enrollment and completion of their degrees could serve as “an example” for the community.

This began over a year ago, and since then Blash said they have encouraged others in the BCSO to join them, successfully urging employees in departments as disparate as training, corrections and records to enroll with the incentive of reduced tuition.

Last year, Williams and Blash approached the administration at Faulkner University with the idea of extending this offer to all Burke County residents and, to their surprise, the university agreed, but only upon the stipulation that they write up the proposed program themselves.

Cahoon said that this is the first time the university has done anything of this kind by extending a tuition discount to an entire community.

“We saw it as a way to give back to law enforcement and a way to give back to the community,” she said, alluding to Williams and Blash’s desire to let residents of Burke County have an opportunity similar to the one given to them.

Blash admitted that completing the degree in the allotted amount of time, which requires roughly 12 to 15 hours of coursework a week in order to satisfy the requirements of the chosen program, was difficult. Still, he and Williams found ways to motivate one another, often setting aside time on the weekends to study together.

Tough as it seemed at first, Blash said, he felt the online graduate justice administration program he and Williams took was well-designed, “smooth, not hard to navigate.”

“We probably wouldn’t have done it if the other hadn’t,” he said. Now, with their degrees finished, he is glad they did.

Toward the end of the required coursework, Williams and Blash confronted what Blash felt was the biggest obstacle they had yet faced: the research project.

After taking a course in research methods, Williams and Blash had to each write their own federal grant proposal. While this was the most challenging assignment, Blash said he felt it made him “more equipped” and taught him a useful skill, one he might one day be able to implement.

All Burke County residents interested in enrolling at Faulkner via the SOARS Initiative should contact the university’s undergraduate online program at 334-386-7140 and the graduate online program at 334-386-7343.

This story first appeared in the True Citizen.

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