Moore County resident uses Motlow, MTSU partnership to earn her bachelor’s degree 25 years after high school

Moore County resident Brittney Sells, a special education teacher at Clark Memorial School in Winchester returned to MTSU 25 years after high school to earn her bachelor’s degree through University College’s integrated studies program. (Photo Provided)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It’s never too late to reach your goals and a Moore County resident’s recent graduation from Middle Tennessee State University 25 years after her high school graduation is proof of that.

Moore County resident Brittney Sells teaches special education at Clark Memorial School in Winchester. She’s now a thriving professional educator thanks in part to a partnership between Motlow State in Lynchburg and MTSU in Murfreesboro.

Sells says her love for education started when she began work as a substitute in her local school system. She had homeschooled all three of her kids and never thought about working full-time as an educator, but she said getting to know all the other children in the classes where she worked as a sub made her fall in love with public education.

“Being in the classroom was just a whole new element of education that I had not been a part of since I was in high school,” said Sells, who is now 43 and earned her degree in integrated studies through University College in 2021.

College was never an option for Sells early on, she said, explaining that she was already married and a mother by the time she graduated high school.

“My world was totally different,” she said, laughing. “I’ve never done anything the traditional way my entire life.”

By the time her oldest son had graduated high school himself, she was ready to take on the challenge of earning a degree while still homeschooling her two younger children. She enrolled at Motlow State Community College in 2018 to earn her associate degree.

“I had a lot on my plate,” she said. “I wish I had not made it so hard on myself, but I was bound and determined to finish.”

While at Motlow, Sells participated in an innovative partnership between the college and MTSU that allowed Motlow students to dual enroll at both institutions and take MTSU’s prior learning assessment course.

Through that course, referred to as PLA, students leverage one of the biggest advantages MTSU can give to its adult students who are finishing their degrees. Students convert learning from their prior work and from training and certifications into college credit that can be used to satisfy electives in their degree program. Students can earn and apply up to 48 elective credits all for the cost and time of a three-credit-hour course. Sells documented 51 PLA credits, more than she could even use.

“It was a wonderful program for me,” she said. “It basically knocked almost two years off of my studies.”

Sells said she was proud of the work she did putting together a portfolio of all her professional accomplishments but went on to say that she never expected to document the 51 credits awarded to her.

“Financially, this was a huge boost,” Sells said. “I was already taking classes at Motlow and chose to pay for the MTSU PLA course, so I really wanted to do well.”

Using 2022 tuition rates, Sells saved more than $19,000 with the Prior Learning Assessment course.

She credits Cathy Delametter, the course’s instructor, with her success.

“Cathy reminded us constantly to ‘trust the process,’” Sells said. “It was difficult, but it all came together in the end, and we all said, ‘Ah, I get it now!’”

“The PLA class is more work than most students expect. It requires students to reflect on learning they’ve acquired from work and training programs, then provide detailed documentation to support that learning,” Delametter said. “But it is well worth the effort. On average, students earn 27 college credits for the time and cost of one three-credit-hour course. And equally important is the students’ recognition and pride for all they have learned from their years of work.”

Sells agreed that balancing her time was the biggest challenge she faced. In addition to her classes, she was homeschooling her kids, substitute teaching, and driving a school bus.

“I did a lot of my school work at night,” Sells said, laughing. “Sometimes I’d be able to read a little bit during breaks when I was subbing, but a lot my work was done when I got home in the evening.”

Since starting the program, Sells has recruited 10 or 15 of her friends to do just what she did.

“I tell so many that are my age and wanting to do something they’ve never done before that it is possible,” she said. “I didn’t ever think I would have my degree when I graduated high school.”

Sells says when she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2021 that she wanted to encourage everyone because of how fulfilling the experience has been for her.

“I needed a fast track, and the PLA course opened so many doors that I would not have been able to walk through without it,” she said. “I’m so thankful for PLA and MTSU because without it I would not be where I am today.”

Sells is mulling over going back to MTSU to earn her master’s degree, and she’s ready for the challenge should she decide to do that.

If you are interested in learning more about the partnership between Motlow and MTSU or prior learning assessment, visit •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}