Al Holcomb with Dean Susan Schurman at SMLR's Convocation May 2012

Al Holcomb

Al Holcomb began his college career like many individuals, enrolling in community college after graduating from high school. But his pathway to earning a college degree was anything but a straight road.

When Al was at Middlesex County College, he seized upon a career opportunity in the telecommunications industry when his friend offered him a place in his new company. The company had recently signed an agreement with the IBEW (Electrical Workers) Local 164, so shortly after being hired Al began his apprenticeship and dropped out of Middlesex County College.

Although work in telecommunications was steady, Al always wanted to go back and finish his college education. In 2001 he enrolled at Rutgers University:  “I wanted a more than what the union was offering me,” Al said, “Rutgers seemed like it would be a more cohesive environment.” But with the economy in a recession following 9/11 and work slow in telecommunications, Al feared for his family’s financial stability and he left Rutgers.

By 2008, Al was working in a new company and this one offered tuition reimbursement. With that goal of earning a college degree still on his mind, Al reenrolled at Middlesex County College. “I finally felt like I was in a more mature place in my life and could really benefit from college,” Al explained. Before receiving his Associate’s degree, Al switched back to Rutgers, this time to the School of Management and Labor Relations. And that’s where Al’s story took another unexpected turn:  “I happened to go to class early one day and a classmate was speaking to the professor about a program called NJ PLACE,” he recalls. “I asked them about NJ PLACE and they explained that it was a program where you could earn college credits for your apprenticeship.” After contacting the NJ PLACE director, Al learned that by combing the credits he received from his apprenticeship along with the credits he previously earned at Middlesex County College, he was just one credit shy of earning his Associate’s degree in Technical Studies!

A one-credit tennis course was all Al needed to earn his AAS in Technical Studies in 2011. He was then able to transfer this Associate’s degree to the School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) at Rutgers University, which accelerated the process of earning his Bachelor degree. In May 2012, Al graduated from Rutgers SMLR with a Bachelor of Science in Labor and Employment Relations.

Since receiving his degree, Al has made the transition into a management position at his company: “I am grateful for NJ PLACE because it helped to put me in a better position with my company as well as expand my network” Al says. Looking back, he says, "The beauty of college is that you can come and go throughout your entire life.  Each class you take is like adding a building block to a better future for you and your family."  Al’s future educational goals include plans to enroll in a Master’s degree program in Business Administration.