Learning for the long haul

| July 06, 2007

Education opportunities help drivers advance their careers while on the road.

It took 29 years behind the wheel of a truck before former tanker hauler Richard Patterson realized his true dream.

Patterson spent his last 18 months as a trucker earning an associate’s degree in interdisciplinary studies through an online program at Kaplan University. Then he went to the police academy in his hometown, Columbus, Ga., and in November 2006 became what he’d always wanted to be – an officer of the law.

“I’m loving it,” Patterson says. “This is something I wish I’d done 30 years ago.”

Like most truckers – 53 percent, according to the 2006 Truckers News Reader Survey – Patterson bypassed college and went straight to work after high school. After spending six years in the Army, he had a family to support and no time for the associate’s degree required to enter the police academy, so he became a trucker, like his father.

“When I got out of the Army in ’78, my dad said the best thing to do right now is go into driving,” he says. “And I just stayed with it.”

But two years ago, the 51-year-old Patterson says he had enough of life on the road and trucker stereotypes.

“Everywhere you went it was like, ‘you’re worthless,’ and I knew I was better than that,” he says.

He researched distance learning programs online and decided on Kaplan because of its competitive pricing and convenience. (Tuition for undergraduate/graduate programs at Kaplan begins at $305 per credit hour, including instructional materials.)

“Kaplan had everything sent to my house a week prior, so I had time to get home and pick it up,” Patterson says.

Though he had little computer experience, he bought a laptop and wireless Internet service and jumped in with both feet.

“There were many nights I’d have to call my son and find out how to fix it,” he says. “It was a learning experience.”

Once he got the hang of it, he studied in the truck every day to complete his weekly assignments and tests.

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