Lorraine Priest's dissertation on continuing education reflects her own journey from high school drop out to Ph.D.

For Walden University students and alumni, the personal value of lifelong learning is a given. As Lorraine Priest, who earned her Ph.D. in Applied Management and Decision Sciences (now Ph.D. in Management) at Walden, points out in her dissertation, lifelong learning is also key to the success of an organization.

In her Study on the Impact of Credential Gaps on Organizational Leaders, Priest writes: "If individuals do not continuously update their knowledge and skills, it is possible that they will continue to lead with outdated knowledge and skills." Because of this, "continuing education is an integral part of a manager's ability to manage people, equipment, and organizations."

Priest explains that what is often called a "generation gap" in the workplace is actually a "credential gap." Without ongoing participation in relevant continuing education courses or leadership training, the employee "may be practicing old theories or old concepts, and when someone with newer knowledge comes along, it is hard for them to perceive the change, not to mention [create] the change itself."

The concept of the credential gap—of the necessity to stay current through the ongoing pursuit of education—has equal relevance in the trajectory of any individual career, and Priest's own story illustrates the value of bridging that gap. Priest was a high school dropout when she began working at a General Motors plant in Massachusetts. After a time, a supervisor position opened, and Priest was excited to apply for it. "I was a single parent of a two-year-old daughter," she says. "I really needed the money." However, she was told that she couldn't interview for the position because she didn't have her high school diploma.

"So I got my G.E.D. in a week," she says, "and I got the job." Realizing that improving her credentials was the only way she could advance, Priest spent weekends working toward her associate's degree, which she credits for her retention when the plant closed. "GM shipped me out to Michigan and I got my bachelor's degree online. Then I kept on going until I got my master's," she says. "I applied for a [promotion] and was able to get it because I had the degree."

Ultimately, Priest worked for General Motors for 22 years before retiring in 1998. Meanwhile, she had begun teaching online management courses in 1996. After she left GM, she decided to pursue her Ph.D. so she could broaden the scope of her teaching. She also wanted to serve as an inspiration to others who had dropped out of high school or college. "My husband said, 'Go for your Ph.D. and get it over with,'" Priest says with a laugh. She chose Walden because it was recommended to her, and she found that the Walden community overall and her dissertation committee in particular were "absolutely great—there are people always willing to help support you in your efforts."

Priest says that her Ph.D., which she earned in February 2007, "made a difference from day one." Her teaching salary and opportunities for advancement have increased, and she's able to teach classes on more topics. Currently, she teaches online for Baker College (of Michigan) and Upper Iowa University. "I teach people who have to learn new [information and skills] in order to keep their jobs," she says. "The good part about teaching is that I'm learning every day of the week."

"Getting this Ph.D. has impacted everyone around me—my family, friends, and people I don't even know," Priest says. "I hope to be able to reach other dropouts and let them know that they are not failures and that they can get themselves on their feet, and get an education and a good job. I am proof that it can be done."

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