Michael Warren had a sociology degree when he settled in Lancaster County, but he wanted to be a nurse.
Working and studying in his free time, he earned his registered nursing diploma in 2003 at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. That got him in the door at Lancaster General Hospital as an infectious disease nurse.
In 2009, he earned a bachelor’s in nursing via an 18-month program meeting weekly at a Lancaster County satellite of Virginia’s Eastern Mennonite University. That allowed him to specialize in wound care, a certification requiring 80 hours of classroom study and 60 hours of clinical time. He was certified in 2013 after studying at Wicks Educational Associates Inc. in Upper Allen Township, Cumberland County.
“There aren’t many wound care certification programs in the country,” he said. “Luckily, there was one in the area.”
Proximity to academic resources allowed Warren to specialize while working in his field.
“I couldn’t have afforded to stop working because I was a nontraditional student,” he said. “These programs were geared toward adult learners who work.”
Warren’s trajectory isn’t uncommon. The region boasts dozens of educational outlets making it practical to access advanced degrees, certifications and skills to boost careers or change vocations.
At Harrisburg Area Community College, where the average student is 26 years old, 97 percent of students in the fall came from Pennsylvania; 63 percent are enrolled in career programs. HACC also offers enrichment classes in retirement planning, fitness and other topics, in which 306 students are enrolled.
“To the extent possible, we open the campus for people to come,” said Cynthia A. Doherty, HACC’s provost and vice president of academic affairs. “We want to be a resource for the community.”
Educational opportunities go beyond traditional classrooms.
Dickinson College’s Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues schedules renowned speakers and regularly draws nonstudents to hear experts and engage in an exchange of ideas on subjects ranging from the Syrian migration crisis to climate change.
Shippensburg University’s Small Business Development Center offers free business consulting to upstarts by industry professionals. Courses cover the basics all the way through to specialized business management techniques. In 2013, the center served 332 clients from four counties and provided 2,101 consulting hours.
“We’re one of the few small-business development centers in the region,” said university spokesman Peter Gigliotti. “It’s geared toward people starting a business or updating their business and looking for new ways to do things. We feel we have a role and a responsibility to this region.”
In Lancaster, Michael Warren has set his sights on a master’s degree to open his career to administration. In the long run, he said, educational access benefits everyone.
“(Higher education) has given me more confidence and opened opportunities to advance,” Warren said. “And better-educated nurses mean better outcomes for patients.”