WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Perhaps Shana Selender's answer to a simple question described the mood on campus Saturday at American University.
When asked her last name, she put her hand on her hip and replied with a smile and a wink: "My last name is M.A. in Communications."
She and 17 other students who enrolled in a special Masters Program at the School of Communication are hopeful that their degrees will give them an edge in this economy, even while most admit that the economy drove them to go back to school.
"My firm was purchased by another one and so they closed down my department," said Danielle Ehrman, "which is what motivated me to get my Masters. It would obviously make me more marketable. I need that support. I'm a single parent."
Ehrman and her classmates spent the last 18 months as "Cohort 19," the 19th group to graduate under the special program that offers graduate level courses on weekends only.
"We started this weekend group in 1992," explained Professor Darrell C. Hayes. "The reason was so many people couldn't go to evening graduate school classes, because their bosses expect them to work late, but their bosses won't mess with their weekends. It's not really a graduate program as much as it is a professional development seminar, because they bring all their experience to the class."
Hayes said many of his students are some of the most disciplined and driven people in a college setting. People like Crystal Taylor who drove from St. Mary's County, Maryland every Saturday and Sunday to attend classes.
"It's been hectic," she said. "It's been hard balancing forty hours of week at work and then coming to class on the weekends. But this is about bettering yourself everywhere. They say you need a Masters degree to get you ahead."
Many accept the financial burden they've taken on, saying they are realistic about debt, but they have an optimistic outlook the advanced education will make up for that.
"I actually got a new job when I was in this program, and it clearly gives you an added value," said Rita Penn. "So it was a really good move for me. I also think at the end when I come out of it, I'll be a much stronger candidate."