Reviewed by: Pat Byington
The traditional four-year on-campus college program is not a one-size-fits-all experience—just ask Alexis Barton. In 2005, Alexis left college due to a personal trauma, a decision that negatively affected her self-image. However, Alexis took another shot at college, thanks to The University of Alabama’s New College LifeTrack—a UA Online program designed for nontraditional students who want to complete their college degree while balancing work and other obligations.
We spoke with Alexis Barton to learn more about her story.
Meet Alexis Barton
Since she was a child, Alexis Barton always wanted to be a journalist.
Before Alexis graduated from T.R. Miller High School in Brewton—a small town in southern Alabama—she made the decision to attend The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for her undergraduate degree. The majority of her college-bound classmates, whom she’d known since kindergarten, were either headed to The University of Alabama or Auburn University. Although she was a dedicated Crimson Tide fan, she initially ruled out UA because she wanted to branch out and meet new people.
Alexis thrived at the start of her college career at UAB. She attended classes regularly, made the Dean’s List, chose a major and then changed majors as she got closer to identifying her passions. However, she began having difficulties in her coursework after she experienced a personal trauma.
“Ultimately, that trauma led me to decide to leave college. It was a decision that I struggled with and is still difficult for me to talk about now. Growing up, my family encouraged education and expected that I would go to college and graduate in four years—if not three years—because I was so driven. I excelled academically in high school as an honor student and never had a problem with any level of work in school. So when I made the decision to leave college, it blindsided many of my family members and friends.”Alexis Barton
Alexis found a full-time job to support herself, but she knew that one day she would need to return and finish her college degree.
“I remember being behind cars on my way into work and seeing their alumni tags or vanity plates honoring their alma mater. Seeing those vanity plates every day made me feel a certain way; they were something simple, but they reminded me that I hadn’t finished college. Coincidentally, I would hear commercials on the radio talking about, ‘going back to Bama’ in what was then called the External Degree Program. Finally, I decided to look into that program in earnest.”Alexis Barton
“Going back to Bama” with New College LifeTrack
So, what is the External Degree Program? Now called New College LifeTrack, the interdisciplinary program is offered by UA Online and designed for working adult students who are set on completing their degree, regardless of their major.
“I looked at the program for a long time before reaching out, getting information and deciding to apply. I actually applied in secret; I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want to get their hopes up and disappoint them again if I couldn’t follow through. I didn’t anticipate being accepted into the program, but I was, and I began my studies in 2006.”Alexis Barton
Since Alexis needed to continue working full time, the flexibility of the New College LifeTrack program really appealed to her.
“The program was mostly remote, which made it easier for me as a working adult to take the classes. Another thing that appealed to me was that it was The University of Alabama, so I knew the program was accredited and would be respected. From my conversations with the staff, I knew that they were going to provide an individualized level of support that I wouldn’t receive anywhere else. Whether you attend class in person or virtually, there is a certain level of support that students need, and I felt that I would receive that support at The University of Alabama.”Alexis Barton
Although Alexis was back in school, she chose to take her time and complete her courses slowly. Many of the challenges that led her to initially leave college amplified when she returned to school.
“Going back to school was challenging, and I think I took a second break at one point. But I had this come-to-Jesus moment with my advisor, who told me that when I get angry enough with myself for not finishing, I would find the drive get through it. She was right! Something clicked and I tackled my courses head-on.”Alexis Barton
In 2010, Alexis graduated from The University of Alabama
As she wrapped up her studies that last semester, Alexis visited the campus bookstore to order her cap and gown ahead of graduation. In the bookstore, she discovered that the cap and gown wasn’t going to come in the mail; she could take it home right then and there.
“To hold the cap and gown in my hands—something I had dreamed about and prayed about and worked toward for years—to see that I had really accomplished my goal, that was the best moment.
For my final assignment, I had to return to campus to defend my senior project with my advisor and the faculty I worked with. I remember sitting in that room and talking about my project; it was almost an out-of-body experience for me. I had imagined getting to that point many times, but to actually discuss my research and validate myself as an academic was so fulfilling. After I defended my senior project I walked out of the building but before I could get to my car, I sat on the curb and burst into tears because I felt this enormous sense of relief. For years, I had this lingering self-doubt—maybe I wasn’t disciplined enough or maybe I just didn’t have what it took to be able to finish. For a variety of reasons, finishing college felt insurmountable. So when I actually reached that point of completion, the sense of relief and satisfaction I felt were some of the best feelings that I have carried with myself, even beyond graduation.”Alexis Barton
For Alexis, New College LifeTrack was a game changer.
“When I went back to my job after graduation, I held my head a little bit higher because I felt like I had reached something that put me on an even playing field with my colleagues. I had this feeling, ‘If I can graduate, what else can I do?’ For me, graduating motivated me to examine other areas of my life to see what other goals and dreams were possible.”Alexis Barton
Alexis’ new degree put her on a brand-new trajectory, both personally and professionally, in terms of what she believed she could accomplish. After graduating from the New College LifeTrack program, Alexis decided to quit her job and go back to The University of Alabama as a graduate student. She finished her Master of Arts in Journalism within a year at UA. Now, Alexis works as a freelance journalist, a corporate communicator for PNC and an adjunct professor in The University of Alabama’s Department of Journalism and Creative Media.
“The New College LifeTrack program changed everything for me; without it, I would not have pursued my master’s degree—I wouldn’t have been able to pursue a master’s degree. Now, I’m working as a journalist and a writer—just like I once dreamed about as a little girl.”Alexis Barton