Dedicated study

Graduate school takes a big commitment in time and resources. Read why these Bradley students, staff and alumni think it’s worth the cost and effort. 

Just a few years after starting his job as a plant manager at family owned Excalibur Seasonings in 1996, ambition led Gulf War veteran Tom Hornstein EMBA ’03 to pursue graduate school. He began with Bradley’s (then-named) Executive Certificate of Management program and, almost immediately afterward, joined the first cohort of the Theresa S. Falcon Executive MBA. 

Hornstein believed combining the leadership skills he learned in nearly 10 years of Marine Corps service with those found in the civilian world would be just what he’d need to grow his career. Given that the program cost more than $50,000 at the time, it was definitely a leap of faith.


Today, Hornstein is Excalibur’s CEO, an uncommon achievement for a non-family member. He credited the strategic plan his group created for the multimillion dollar company based in Pekin, Ill., as part of their studies as a key element in his — and Excalibur’s — success. When his professor, internationally recognized strategic planning expert Larry Weinzimmer ’83 MBA ’85, told Hornstein he would charge a company between $30,000 and $40,000 for something similar, Hornstein knew he’d made the right choice.

“I thought, ‘I’m already going to recoup the majority of the cost of this program just by developing an awesome strategic plan for (my) company since we didn’t have one,’” said Hornstein. “… Initially, I went to (Excalibur’s) board to ask for the time off to do the EMBA, but I was financing it. Before I was halfway through the program, the board came to me and said, ‘We want to finance (the remainder) and reimburse you for what you’ve already spent.’ That’s the value they saw.”

Deepening a skill set

Like Hornstein, Kaci Green Hampton ’12 M.A. ’15 believed graduate study would help her advance by filling in her knowledge of nonprofit management, her chosen career. Hampton, who then worked for the Illinois CancerCare Foundation, looked nationwide for programs offering leadership training for administrative positions in human service and community agencies.

Coincidentally, her alma mater offered the perfect graduate program, as well as generous tuition help. She entered the program, which requires 36 semester hours and a field experience, in 2014.

Nonprofit managers often wear many hats, making the program’s multidisciplinary approach helpful, said Hampton. Two classes were particularly noteworthy, including Supervision and Engagement, which explores human resources policies and tactics.

“It helped me better understand what it means to be an HR professional — and that anyone in a leadership or managerial position needs to have a basic understanding of HR policies,” she said.

The other, a financial class taught by Rick Zehr, president of OSF’s Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, “made (her) think more critically about how nonprofits need to do their finances.”

Hampton did required fieldwork at the Heart of Illinois United Way. Now a consulting volunteer while she seeks full-time employment, Hampton works on special projects such as helping coordinate the young professionals group and doing research. Plunging into the program’s coursework and her United Way internship solidified her desire to work in the nonprofit sector.

“I want to learn every aspect of running one,” said Hampton.

Personal satisfaction meets practicality

Post-baccalaureate study can make a candidate more competitive, but can also help those looking to change careers. Chinedu Ugorji MSIE ’16, a master’s student in industrial engineering from Lagos State, Nigeria, learned about Bradley from his sister-in-law, Love Uchenna Ugorji MSIE ’15, when they were undergrads at Federal University of Technology Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria. Although he was successful working in sales back home, Ugorji wanted to do something more fulfilling; he also needed to be pragmatic.

“Going for a master’s degree is not something you do subconsciously,” said Ugorji, who began the Bradley program in spring 2014. “You need to have clear goals. You have to come from a professional standpoint and ask, ‘How do I want to increase my value in the marketplace?’” 

Ugorji has already put his studies to good use, landing a position as a project/site manager trainee with Supply Chain Services International (SCSI), which provides logistical, quality and other solutions for original equipment manufacturers. The job has forced him to delay graduation in order to finish his research project.

“If you have to deal with just coursework without the interference of a regular job, you should do very well by God’s grace,” said Ugorji. “Also, Bradley professors do a very good job at explaining (the material) and breaking up the work load and exams into small sized portions.

“Working, that’s where the challenge comes. At some point in my master’s program, I worked two jobs, and still had to help at home …. (The) best way I found to manage my time was to cut down on procrastination and deal with matters as they come.”

Re-entering the workforce

Kristin Gatliff DPT ’18, a student in Bradley’s doctoral program in physical therapy, decided to research head trauma after one of her sons had a serious concussion playing football two years ago.

“I saw how much it impacted him,” said Gatliff. “I noticed he wasn’t the same person right away. It’s good for parents to know what the symptoms are since the coaches might not (notice) when they have 100 boys playing football.” 

A single mother of six, whose children range in age from 7 to 20, she earned a business degree from Indiana University Bloomington in the mid-1990s. After spending nearly two decades at home, Gatliff decided it was time for a change.

Making the transition from mom to student hasn’t been easy, however. Gatliff said she waits until her younger children are in bed before tackling her own studies. Her two teenage daughters help with babysitting and making dinner. Gatliff added the students in her cohort are also supportive of one another. 

The biggest surprise, she said, has been the increase in workload compared to her undergrad days, especially with exams. “You can’t just memorize things. You have to understand the material and be able to apply it.”

Gatliff hopes the degree will get her a position as a physical therapist, since she doesn’t believe she has the same options in the business world after so long a gap.

“I would have had to go back to school after not being in the workforce in order to get a good job. Since (that was the case), I thought I might as well study something that interested me.”

Gaining critical feedback

As a junior at Monmouth College (Ill.), Jessica Bingham MFA ’16 wanted to learn more about Bradley’s MFA program in art. She met Professor of Ceramics Randy Carlson while attending an open house for the graduate school and later connected with Paul Krainak, the art department chair. After both encounters, she realized she had more to do before pursuing graduate studies.

“I needed to settle down in the studio and work, so after graduation, I did a yearlong fellowship in the art department at Monmouth,” she said.

Bingham kept in touch with Carlson and Krainak. “They showed such an interest in me. When I applied, they offered me a full-tuition scholarship and an assistantship,” she said, citing her jobs in the gallery and the classroom.

In her spare time, Bingham and her husband Zach Ott, along with fellow grad student Alex Martin ’15, a printmaker, co-founded Project 1612.

“We did a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to revamp my garage into an art space. It’s an alternate exhibition space for very short-term residencies. So far, we have had 14 artists show in the space.” 

Her favorite part of her master’s program? “It’s very independent. I am constantly developing in my studio practice,” she said. “The faculty has encouraged my artistic growth.” 

For Charlotte Cherne M.A. ’16, graduate study offered time and space to write. She’s also learning a crucial lesson for any writer: how to give — and take — constructive criticism.

After earning a bachelor’s in English from the University of California, Riverside, it was Bradley’s intimate atmosphere that led her to the university to pursue her master’s degree. 

“Professors know my name,” she said. “We have small discussion groups, and conversation flows. And this semester, I’m a teaching assistant in a poetry class.” 

Assistant Professor of English Devin Murphy’s creative fiction workshop was particularly helpful for Cherne, who will go on for her MFA next fall. “I was a bit nervous at first, but the environment and class were so welcoming. I’ve grown as a writer and become more comfortable sharing my work with others.”

Although her ideal career would be to write full time, Cherne is open to other options, including teaching, after completing her studies.

“Unlike medical school, dentistry or nursing, a graduate degree in English is not a set path,” she said. “But I know there’ll be a job out there — even one I can’t predict right now — that I’ll stumble upon and love.”

Enrollment on the rise 

“(Graduate school offers) a vibrant discourse, analysis and differing perspectives that create a prime learning culture.”

— Bakken

Earning a bachelor’s degree used to be enough to make you successful in the marketplace, but today, many people turn to graduate programs to help achieve their employment goals. The Council of Graduate Schools reported in 2014, first-time graduate enrollment was up 3.5 percent from the year before, the biggest annual increase since 2009. 

Bradley is no exception to this trend. Jeffrey Bakken, Bradley’s associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school, said that in 2012, there were 578 students enrolled in the university’s graduate programs, leading to questions about its sustainability. But as of spring 2016, there were 905 students enrolled (161 of them in online programs), a 57 percent increase in four years.

International recruitment is a large part of this turnaround. Bakken has traveled to India three times, as well as to Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and China. Future plans include Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It’s a grueling schedule, with no time to sightsee, but the trips have helped increase Bradley’s name recognition and provided benefits back home.

“Meeting the students makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “Having them here also helps diversify our campus.”

Master’s or doctoral program classes can be more demanding than at the undergraduate level. Bakken noted there are different expectations of excellence, primarily a higher order of thinking.

“You need to apply yourself,” he said, adding another benefit is the stronger relationships graduate students have with their professors due to an increased focus on a single area of study and their involvement in similar research. “There’s a vibrant discourse, analysis and differing perspectives that create a prime learning culture.” 

Concerns about cost

Paying for graduate school, however, takes careful planning and sacrifice. According to Peterson’s, whose annual education guide is a bible for many prospective students and their families, annual graduate tuition at public colleges and universities totals nearly $30,000 and at private schools, it jumps to nearly $40,000. Along with books and supplies, there may be housing costs to consider, as well as any general living costs.

How can students reduce the sticker shock? Going to school on weekends and keeping a regular income can help, as can employee tuition reimbursement programs. There may also be opportunities for scholarships or teaching assistantships, as well as federal loans with reduced interest rates. 

Students should be careful about how much of a financial burden they’re willing to take on, especially when combined with any lingering undergraduate loans. In 2014, U.S. News reported the combined undergraduate and graduate debt was $57,600 for a student in 2012. Will it turn into a bigger paycheck? The answer depends on the chosen program.

“The general conclusion about graduate degrees is that they do improve earnings,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce to The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte in a December 2014 article. “There’s almost no doubt about that. (But) that doesn’t mean there aren’t some turkeys in the mix.”

Degrees in the sciences, such as engineering, are more likely to lead to a big raise than someone pursuing a doctorate in the humanities. Students should look at their field’s job market to determine if the high price tag is likely to deliver.

While a graduate degree is no guarantee of financial success, these Bradley experts agree there are many additional benefits that make it worth all the time, effort and resources. Hornstein doesn’t believe he’d be the CEO of a multimillion dollar company without it, and he encourages other senior executives to do the same.

“I tell them if you want to set yourself apart, you need to get your graduate degree,” said Hornstein. “I think it lowers the field of competitors, especially if you take (what you’ve learned) and apply it to your job. It also shows your commitment both internally to the employees and externally to the customer base.”

— S.L. Guthrie and MARY BROLLEY
— Photography by Duane Zehr


Making the decision 

Graduate school is a big step, so before you apply, here are some questions you should ask: 

What do I want to study? What do I want to write about? What kind of research project would I like to do?

Graduate programs are more intense than undergraduate study. Be sure the subject is one that will keep you interested long term.

Am I ready?

You’re ready for a new challenge or you’ve hit a career plateau. You don’t have the responsibilities of raising children yet or you want the degree while you’re still able to make the best use of it. Whatever the reasons, when you attend graduate school, what you study is just as important as where you study, so be sure you’re ready to make the commitment.

What kind of learning environment do I want?

Do you want to be in a classroom on campus where you can have a lot of social interaction, or do you prefer to work from home online? Big school or small school? Make sure it’s the right fit for you and your life.

Where does grad school fit in with my current and future career goals?

Are you looking to move up? Make a career change? Stand out in a sea of candidates? Graduate school is not the place to “find yourself,” so be sure you know exactly what you want from it beforehand.

How will grad school impact my family?

Spouses, significant others and children will all feel the effects of your decision. Be sure to discuss your plans with them and how you will manage the anticipated and unexpected changes.

How much time can I give to being in class and to my studies?

Are you already working a lot of extra hours? Have children in day care? Other family responsibilities? It’s important to know what you can and can’t accomplish so you can do well in your classes without burning yourself out.

How long will it take to finish?

If a student typically finishes a program in 18 months, will you be able to do the same, or will you have to take longer and possibly incur more cost?

How will I pay for my studies?

Does your employer offer tuition assistance? Are there fellowships, scholarships or other financial aid available for your particular program? If not, you’ll need to determine how much financial burden you’re willing to bear and how long it will take to repay any loans you’ll need.

Will the benefits outweigh the cost of attending?

The average total cost of graduate school can run more than $30,000 for tuition, books and fees. Will you be able to recoup that money in increased salary without neglecting another important area, such as saving for retirement?