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Class is adult program's largest

The largest class in the 22-year history of Eckerd College's Program for Experienced Learners received their degrees Saturday night in ceremonies attended by cheering spouses, children and parents.

"This is a very special moment for Eckerd College. You are living evidence of our continuing mission of reaching out to the Tampa Bay community," board of trustees chairman Arthur Ranson III told the 235 graduates.

The college's Program for Experienced Learners (PEL) is tailored to the needs of adults, many of whom work, have families and may not have attended college in years, if ever. Since the program began in 1978, about 2,800 men and women have received degrees in majors ranging from human development to health care management, business, information systems, creative writing and American studies.

"You are very special people who have spent a lot of time, effort and money to get this degree," said James E. MacDougald, president of Ceridian Benefits Services and the PEL commencement speaker.

Two awards were given during the graduation ceremony. Diane Naser Simmons of Pinellas Park won the Irving G. Foster Award for excellence in overall academic achievement. Linda Amato of Riverview received the David and Blanche Colgan Memorial Prize for demonstrating extraordinary determination and perseverance in completing PEL.

PEL gives adults age 25 or older college credit for knowledge and skills gained on their jobs and through life experiences toward earning a bachelor's degree from Eckerd College. Full credit is also given for college work already completed (grade C or better) at any accredited college, no matter how long in the past.

PEL courses are concentrated into half the time (eight versus 16 weeks) during 5-hour evening and weekend classes. Students can take up to two classes during each session and can earn a degree during the same four-year time period of the regular college program. Many PEL students complete their degree program within two to three years. Currently, 1,300 adults are enrolled in the program.