Resident Earns Degree 11 Years after Dropping Out

Gale Horton Gay | 8/23/2012, 5:04 p.m.

Back in the day, Anthony Little had a crystal clear vision of his future - stellar college football performance, graduation, followed by a well paying professional job.

Then life got messy.

Several concussions ended his gridiron days. Falling grades led to academic suspension. Then in his junior year, Little dropped out of school.

"Once I started working, I never looked back," he said. "But it was a stain on my life. I never want to leave something incomplete."

Two years ago a traumatic event - being robbed at gunpoint while working - caused Little to reflect on his unfinished education. In January 2011, he enrolled in James Madison University's [JMU] adult degree program. On August 1 - 11 years after he left college, Little, 33, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Multimedia Marketing.

James Madison University's adult degree program has existed since 1977. The Harrisonburg, Va., school has partnered with Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and George Mason University to increase Virginians' access to higher education. The college has launched a "Return to Madison" campaign, to be funded by a $50,000 grant from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, to identify students who were enrolled at JMU between 1995 and 2008 and earned at least 30 college credits, and encourage them to come back to Madison to complete their degree.

The university's website notes that "Physical, cultural, family, or job-related factors and commitments can make a return to school difficult even for the most intellectually motivated or qualified adults."

Little, an Oxon Hill resident, said the advantages of the adult degree program are its flexibility in allowing older students to select courses "a la carte" and giving credit for work and life experiences.

"They understand the transition for an adult to be a full-time student again," he said.

Now that Little has a degree in hand, he hopes to land a sales or marketing management job.

Little and his wife Andrea also are launching a business he describes as "part record label, part ministry." After the robbery, Little said he found peace writing spiritual songs and penned 22 compositions in 18 months. He's released an original single "King Jesus" and plans to drop an album on October 23.

And Little has found a message in his ups and downs.

"When bad things happen, the Lord still has a plan for your life," he said.

"You only fail when you stop trying to succeed," Little said. "It's a sacrifice. I have yet to see the fruit of my labor, but the journey is so rewarding."