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Programs

Crossing the academic finish line

September 25, 2009
By Maggie Hall Walsh

When it comes to helping undergraduate students earn their degrees, the motto at Colorado State is, "Never give up."

Siri Newman, collegiate success coordinator.

Just shy of a degree

Siri Newman, collegiate success coordinator in the Center for Advising and Student Achievement, is a University employee leading the charge to encourage students to complete their degrees. She uses persistent outreach, encouragement, and support to bring back students who have dropped out of school after completing more than 90 of the required 120 credits to graduate.

Personal contact, support

“What helps students most is having a mentor,” Newman says. “Money helps them make the decision to come back, but the big thing that helps them get through is personal contact and support.”

Benefits of a college degree are well documented. The U.S. Census Bureau says that the average income for people with four-year college degrees is about 80 percent greater on average than those with just high school diplomas. Additionally, undergraduate degrees benefit people by creating greater professional opportunities and benefit society by increasing the education level in the workforce.

Initiative to encourage students to return to campus

The Ram Graduation Award, a pilot program launched in Spring 2009, is a CSU initiative that helps students clear final hurdles toward graduation. Five CSU students were encouraged to return to campus and complete their undergrad requirements. The award granted the students money ranging from $400 to $1,000 for tuition, and Newman worked closely with each student. All five students – three had been out of school for two years, two for one semester – graduated in May.

“These students invested so much time and energy and were so close,” Newman says. “We worked hard to help them reach the finish line.”

Pay off big in the long run

Paul Thayer, associate vice president for Student Affairs and special adviser to the provost for retention, says the investment in time and relatively small amounts of money granted under the Ram Graduation Award pay off big in the long run for the graduating students, for CSU, and for Colorado taxpayers.

“When a student attends college, it represents a mutual investment. The student is investing time, and they’re investing heavily in the dreams they and their families have for their future,” Thayer says. “At the same time, the University is making quite an investment in each student through our professors, advisers, academic support services, and money we receive from the state. It really doesn’t make sense not to try to realize our investment.”

Clear motivator

The impact of encouragement given to students through the Ram Graduation Award is clearly a motivator. One student notes, “It’s sort of a waste of all your time and energy if you don’t return. The two years I spent away, it was always hanging over my head that I hadn’t graduated yet. It’s so satisfying to come back and finish.”

Two other support awards are helping CSU students reach graduation goals. The Bernard Osher Foundation grants funding to universities across the nation to help defray tuition costs for re-entry students, and CSU’s Student Support Grant awards money for tuition and books to students close to graduation and whose financial resources have suddenly been depleted due to the economy.

Worth the time and money

Thayer says efforts to partner with students to ensure success is worth the time and money.

“The University gets another graduate who’s proud of CSU and their degree and can translate that into a great future. Our community gets a person who is well trained, contributes to the economy, and is a great representative of the University.  Students get everything that comes with a degree: confidence, better pay, and greater professional opportunities.

“Everybody wins.”

Originally published in the Fall 2009 Colorado State Magazine.