Little Rock, Arkansas, native John Foster has been to his fair share of college graduation ceremonies in the last several years. He figured it was about time he became a participant.
"My kids inspired me to go back," Foster said. "Once they graduated, I wanted to do it. I'm set to retire in 20 months, and I want to do something besides just retire. I plan on going on and finding another job."
When Foster graduated from A-State's Bachelor of General Studies online program with an institutional 4.0 GPA in May 2018, he completed a higher education journey that began 42 years earlier. A major and highway patrol division commander in the Arkansas State Police, Foster is in his 35th year in law enforcement.
He originally started college at John Brown University in 1976 and held a 1.9 GPA at one point before moving on. Foster returned to school to complete his first degree as his father, Guy Foster, worked two jobs to finance his education. He graduated with an Associate of Arts from North Arkansas College in 1982.
"Completing my bachelor's degree is extremely gratifying," he said. "When I quit college and went to work, I was a junior. I felt incomplete. Now, I feel like I've completed what I set out to do forty-some years ago."
John Q. Law
Foster grew up a hunting and fishing enthusiast. Not surprisingly, a game warden position with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was his first job out of college. He was 22 years old.
"Once I got my foot in the door, I became associated with other law enforcement officers and state police and saw the level of professionalism the state police maintain and uphold," he said. "I knew that was what I wanted to do. After seven years, I switched over from the Game and Fish Commission to the State Police. I've done that for the last 28 years."
More than 30 years after Foster completed the associate degree program, his own kids graduated from college. His son, Matthew, earned a bachelor's degree in criminology from A-State and a master's degree in emergency management from Arkansas Tech University, while his daughter, Madison Dorman, earned a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation from Arkansas Tech.
Once all of that pomp and circumstance faded, Foster knew it was time to finish what he started.
"I work about 60 hours a week, so it's a little demanding," he said. "When you have your priorities set, you make time to do it. It was a few hours after work and a lot of hours on the weekends. You have to have your mind made up that it's what you want to do. You can do it. It's not impossible."
John Q. Online Student
The flexibility of the fully online format was the only way Foster could work school into his hectic schedule.
"I would take one class a session -- so two classes a semester," he said. "I have taken as many as four classes, but that was really tough. I see some of the discussion board responses that are four sentences, while mine are usually two or three paragraphs. I spend a little more time than others. I spent around 20 hours per week on school."
Foster chose A-State online and the general studies program primarily to leave his post-retirement job options wide open. He has some interest in risk management after he hangs up his badge and gun.
"A-State had what I needed at the time," he said. "They also took my transfer credit hours. I had different hours that I could use for emphasis areas that helped me out a lot. With general studies, you have several different ways you can go -- that's a benefit."
The online Bachelor of General Studies program course that Foster enjoyed most was IDS 3013: Critical Thinking in the Profession.
"I liked learning how to think critically," he said. "I wish more people did that, including myself. The last course that I took, [IDS 4023] Leadership in the Profession, was also beneficial. I've been in a leadership role for the last 19 years. It's a never-ending journey to become the best leader you can be."
John Q. Graduate
Foster, who also completed a 10-week course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, in 2012, received tons of support from his entire circle after enrolling with A-State online three years later.
"Everybody is very proud for me," he said. "They're very encouraging and supportive. Without my employer supporting me, I wouldn't have been this successful. I took leave to work on my finals, but they covered for me while I was gone. They're flexible, too."
Now that he is a proud graduate, Foster is doing plenty of fishing and bicycle riding in his hometown while putting the finishing touches on his law enforcement career. Even though he was extremely busy while enrolled in the online bachelor's degree program, time management made everything work.
"You need to be sure to have the time available to put forth the effort the online program requires," Foster said. "You need to have an idea of how much time you have available and use that time effectively. It's definitely worth it."
What better way to cap off the entire experience by walking the graduation stage himself?
"I had no choice," Foster said. "My kids made me go."
Learn more about the A-State online Bachelor of General Studies program.