For Henry Melton, working on a bachelor’s degree has been a 19-year journey of self-discovery and a constant balancing act between doing work he loves and finding time to take classes.
But this past fall, when MGM Resorts International and the Nevada System of Higher Education launched the MGM Resorts International College Opportunity Program at UNLV, Melton saw his chance to complete his degree finally.
“When the college opportunity program was announced, I made the decision that now would be the perfect time to finish,” said Melton, a manager of pool operations at the Vdara. “I felt that I had maxed out how far I could progress without a degree, and that, with MGM’s support, I could complete my program and see how much further I could go.”
The program provides MGM Resorts International’s 70,000 employees access to online certificate and college degree programs at no cost except for an application fee.
Across NSHE, more than 250 MGM Resorts International employees have enrolled. Three students, including Melton, have already earned their degrees this spring.
“Persisting to graduation is a task that can become challenging as time passes,” said Danielle Donato, the senior learning concierge at NSHE. “The more time students spend away from college without a set graduation plan, the less likely they will return to complete their degree. These programs, in which employers invest in a direct pathway to graduation, are critical to helping adult students obtain their degrees.”
Melton's UNLV experience began when he was toddler. His father, Hank Melton, earned his bachelor's degree in hospitality management from UNLV in 1978 and had enrolled his son in the campus preschool. The younger Melton first enrolled at UNLV in 2001 as a Millennium Scholar.
“On paper, I was a hospital administration major, but truthfully, I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” he said. “I planned to use my first year to complete general undergraduate prerequisites but to determine what it is that I wanted to do. My only goal was to keep my GPA up high enough so that I could continue taking classes and eventually find my path.”
After major changes in his personal life, Melton stopped attending classes and relocated out of state. He became a long-term substitute teacher and discovered he enjoyed the training and motivating individuals to develop their skills to be their best. When he returned to Las Vegas in 2008, he continued taking classes sporadically and started working at various resort properties. Eventually, his hospitality experiences led Melton to his passion for pools.
“I came into pools as a profession, as that was the best use of my skill set,” Melton said, adding that he relished his role in training young employees in pool maintenance and lifeguarding. “I had worked with young adults in the past and spent a lot of time learning about what they wanted for themselves and their future. That feeling of doing good by helping young adults figure out their path always stayed with me.”
In 2019, he decided to return to college. “Life was crazy,” said Melton, who at that time had just gotten married, bought a house, and had a baby on the way. “However, I concluded that regardless of where I was, that finishing my degree would make things better in the long run for myself, my family, and our futures.”
Online and Flexible
The MGM College Opportunity Program convinced him further that his timing to return to school was just right. The program offers several degree options at the undergraduate and master's level.
“The online format of the program allows educational flexibility for working adults,” he said.
He only needed to complete two academic semesters to earn his degree. He decided to pursue a bachelor of arts in multidisciplinary studies so he could “apply his skills sets together by studying different disciplines that foster creativity and innovation. It is like getting two degrees without double majoring,” he said.
Melton was in his last class, Interdisciplinary Studies Capstone, when he was furloughed as MGM Resorts International shut down due to COVID-19. That project, which focused on understanding demographics, helped him identify ways to translate his skills and expertise into a new way to support his family until he can return to work at MGM.
“Once I was furloughed, I saw that there was a need for healthcare providers, as well as the support staff that essential workers rely on, such as childcare providers,” he said. “I wanted to help, and I had been certified in CPR instruction, so I began teaching Basic Life Support and CPR classes.”
His persistence to graduation and leveraging that education in the workplace exemplifies how the MGM College Opportunity Program is intended to open pathways of degree completion for adult learners working full time.
“I now look at my degree much like the (CPR and lifeguard) certifications that I issue,” he said. “You may have the necessary knowledge and skillset through personal experience and self-teaching, but your certification is the proof of your capabilities and understanding, and that creates legitimacy in the practice of those skills. Whether it takes four, 10, or nearly 20 years, I encourage anyone who has chosen a path similar to mine to complete their degree.”