Area couples graduate together with master’s degrees

CRYSTAL LAKE – Columbia College of Missouri-Crystal Lake campus director Debra Hartman was looking at the campus’s graduate roster with Karen Beckstrom, Elgin’s campus director, when she saw two people with the same last name.

“Are they brother and sister?” Hartman asked about Steve and Kristina Hermansson.

“No, they’re husband and wife,” Beckstrom answered. “Isn’t that neat? We have a couple graduating here, too.”

Steve and Kristina Hermansson of Woodstock and Marta and Brent Dolan of Bartlett will be graduating with master’s degrees by the end of this summer.

Kristina Hermansson will earn a Master of Arts in teaching, and her husband will earn a master’s in business administration. Marta and Brent Dolan will both earn MBAs.

Hartman said in her experience, it’s unusual for couples to complete master’s degrees at the same time. In fact, this is a first for Hartman. One spouse usually completes the program before the other spouse begins due to job and family obligations.

“It’s an interesting kind of trend for us to watch,” Hartman said.

Each spouse had his or her own reasoning for going back to school. Marta Dolan wasn’t happy with her options in psychology, and she followed her husband back to school when he wanted to remain competitive in the business world.

Kristina Hermansson wanted to be a better eighth-grade teacher at Creekside Middle School in Woodstock and increase her pay, even if she still would have to keep renewing her teaching license every five years.

Patrick Snyder, community and alumni relations coordinator for Columbia College-Crystal Lake, said undergraduate degrees are a must and master’s degrees offer an even greater chance to succeed in the job market.

“I think that it’s becoming a stark reality that not only do two spouses have to work in this economy, but also thrive,” Snyder said. “If you have a family with two MBAs, the earning potential is greater – if one is out of work, they can still get by.”

That’s exactly why Steve Hermansson originally went back to complete his master’s degree; he ended up unemployed during the most recent economic recession.

“Instead of not doing anything with my career, I decided to go back to school and continue moving forward that way,” he said. “At the time, it just ended up being right.”

Hartman said it’s a testament to how these two couples value education – they are spending time and money in a master’s degree program when the money could be spent elsewhere.

“I think it’s telling that families are still investing in education,” Hartman said. “Education lasts a lifetime, and it’s something that will always be a benefit in one’s career path. It’s also a bit of a leap of faith when going through it, particularly when we don’t know where the job market’s heading.”

Kristina Hermansson described going back to school with her husband as “a juggling act,” where often she or her husband would find time to work when their two children were sleeping or not home.

Marta Dolan, a school nurse at Laurel Hill Elementary School in Hanover Park, said she and her husband had the concept of “stealing minutes.” For example, if their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son were sleeping at the same time, either she or her husband would whip out his or her laptop and do homework.

“We would steal any minute we had to make sure everything was turned in on time – even a minute in the checkout aisle,” Dolan said.

At times, Steve Hermansson said, it was easier for his family when both he and his wife were on the same page with understanding each others’ schoolwork load, or if both were taking classes at the same time. When they weren’t on the same page, he said, it was a bummer when one couldn’t go to a family or other social function.

Steve Hermansson said he and his wife are taking part in the July graduation ceremony instead because they wanted their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to attend.

“They sacrificed more than we did,” Steve Hermansson said. “It’s a ceremony for them so they can see what the late nights were for and why I couldn’t go outside and play soccer with them because I was typing away at a paper.”

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