This article offers critical tips gleaned from two of the earliest and successful college stop-out re-enrollment programs – the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s 49er ReAdmits and 49er Finishers, and Harper College’s Completion Concierge. It is a must-read if you are thinking of starting your first stop-out program.
Looking to boost completion rates, more colleges are reaching out to students who left the institution or “stopped out” due to family, life, and career changes — or due to financial hardship — but who either qualify for a degree or other credential without realizing it, or are within a few courses of completion.
In 2010, we interviewed Demaree Michelau, WICHE’s director of policy analysis, for her advice on the key barriers stop-outs face in returning to campus and how institutions can begin to address them.
In this new article, we review two highly successful programs — one at a four-year institution and one at a two-year institution — and we have asked those leading the programs to share tips and advice that may be replicable at other institutions.
Our two sample programs are the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s 49er ReAdmits and 49er Finishers, and Harper College’s Completion Concierge. The three tips to be gleaned:
- Consider a phased approach
- Audit your transition process
- Identify and train a concierge — a single point of contact
Read on for details.
A Phased Approach
Janet Daniel, director of the office of adult students and evening services at UNC Charlotte, suggests identifying clear phases for approaching stop-outs. At UNC Charlotte, this meant developing two programs, starting with 49er Finishers, which identifies seniors who are in good academic, judicial, and financial standing but who stopped out for non-academic reasons. These students received a personal invitation to return to UNC Charlotte and complete their degree. “This was a select group that did not have any holds on their records,” Daniel notes. “We invited them back and worked with their academic departments on an individual basis to help students navigate the institution’s residency requirement.”
As this program demonstrated success, UNC Charlotte added the 49er ReAdmits program, which identifies students who stopped out at any point in their progress toward the degree.
There are a number of questions to address at the outset:
- Will you focus on students who are within X number of credits or X number of required courses from degree completion?
- Will you focus only on students in good academic standing, or will you institute a forgiveness policy?
- Will you focus only on students with no financial holds on registration, or will you work with the registrar to identify appropriate circumstances in which to forgive certain holds?
If you reach out to stop-outs regardless of their financial standing, do some quick scenario planning up front, as there will be issues of policy and priority to consider. For example, if a $250 library fine bars a student from registering, consider removing the hold and agreeing on a repayment schedule, and empower the student to move toward completing their degree.
“There’s an important message to convey: If you were admitted to our institution, you met our criteria, and we admitted you because we believe you can be successful. So yes, we are going to reach out to you and help you complete this degree.”
Janet Daniel, UNC Charlotte
Audit Your Transition Process
“Students who have been out for two or more years can face additional challenges; admissions and financial aid procedures, academic requirements, technology, and even proof of immunization policies may have changed since the student first enrolled. The longer a student has been away, the more challenging the transition back may be.”
Janet Daniel, UNC Charlotte
In developing the 49er Finishers and 49 ReAdmits programs, one of UNC Charlotte’s first steps was to audit every step in the transition process — all of the communications with re-admitted students — to identify obstacles or barriers to an effective transition back to the institution. For example:
- Offer a preliminary re-evaluation of their transcript, taking into account credits they may have earned at other institutions since
- Do you offer extended hours of operation for working students?
- Is your website for readmits easily navigable, so that students can find what they need quickly?
- Are academic advisors prepared to assist readmits?
A “SECRET SHOPPER” EXERCISE
Demaree Michelau at WICHE suggests having a staff member call your own institution as though he or she were a stop-out looking to re-enroll. See where the call is routed, and find out how easily — or with how much difficulty — a prospective returning student will be able to navigate the steps to re-enroll. “You can find out where the holes are,” Michelau advises. She also notes that you can conduct a similar activity to test the navigability of your university website for returning adult students.
A Completion Concierge
A number of institutions seeking to re-enroll stop-outs have designated one office or individual on campus to help stop-outs navigate the enrollment process (and later, student services) much more quickly. Maria Moten, assistant provost and dean of enrollment services at Harper College, suggests housing this position within the registar, to facilitate access to student records and timely removal of obstacles to both admittance and effective transition.
Harper College has defined a completion concierge as a position with these responsibilities:
- Identify students who are close to completing degree requirements
- Organize the preparation of information needed for graduation evaluations
- Utilize the degree audit module and communicate results with the student population
- Track student progress as they continue through successful completion of a degree or certificate program
- Work with academic counselors to ensure proper course placement
(At Harper, this is a permanent part-time position.)
Moten especially emphasizes the customer-service nature of an effective concierge: “If a student doesn’t follow through and meet with their advisor, the concierge is the one who follows up with them. Track whether they are taking the courses they need, term by term. Be prepared to step in to help them get access to a required course that is full. If a course the student needs is not being offered, the concierge can also work with an academic department to determine whether a substitution is possible.”
PART OF A LARGER COMPLETION STRATEGY
Harper College’s completion concierge is just the first phase of a far-reaching strategy the institution is piloting. Moten speaks to the importance of taking measures at each step in the student’s progress from admittance to exit to encourage completion.
Some of the practices Harper College is focusing on:
- Piloting a “completion pledge” in partnership with Phi Theta Kappa, which students sign indicating their commitment to working toward completing a Harper College credential, and outlining the institution’s pledge of its own efforts to help them succeed.
- An increased focus on dual-degree agreements that not only allow students to transfer from the two-year institution to a four-year, but also facilitate the exchange of student data in both directions, so that students who transfer prior to completing a Harper College credential can reverse their credits back to Harper to finish there, as well.
- Updating the college website to allow students to self-audit their progress toward their desired credential each term and connect them more easily with resources to help them finish.