Twenty percent of Americans between the ages 25 to 64, some 37 million people, have taken college coursework but failed to earn a degree. These folks are already part of the way toward a diploma and statistically higher wages, but can’t find the time, money, patience, or purpose to conclude their education. Project Win-Win, a new outreach program profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is meant to find college dropouts who are just a few classes away from graduation and encourage them to complete their degrees. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?
But as The Chronicle’s Jennifer Gonzalez explains, it’s not an easy sell getting dropouts back into school:
One of the first responses from many former students reached by college officials involved with Project Win-Win is whether the invitation to re-enroll is a joke. Some are befuddled, having thought for years that they had already earned a degree. Others are indifferent, assuming that the communication will lead to a plea for money.
If colleges can get their dropouts to the next step of the conversation, of entertaining the idea of returning, there are still challenges. Sometimes cost is a worry; sometimes curricula have been updated so that certain credits no longer count toward a particular degree.
The process can also be an administrative headache for colleges.
Success requires scouring databases, and in some cases adjusting them, to locate students who fit the criteria for graduation. Countless hours are spent tracking down students via letters, phone calls, and e-mails. The work is a drain on college staff members, who usually juggle those duties with their regular workloads. And it is all occurring at a precarious time, especially for community colleges, where surging enrollment collides with dwindling resources.
To make the transition back to a scholarly life easier for former students, Project Win-Win is emulating the "cut through the red tape" approach of University of New Mexico's successful Graduation Project, a program that guides students over the bureaucratic hurdles of the University system. Graduation Project gives students information about which classes they need to graduate, encourages them to petition academic departments for credits or waivers, and works with the registrar's office when classes fill to capacity before the returning student can secure a seat. Small victories are trickling in. At the time of the article's publication, Project Win-Win had awarded almost 600 associate degrees and identified an additional 1,600 potential degree recipients.