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CCRI creates two new programs to help students complete their degrees

July 28, 2014

Photo of a student at the Bursar's counter. CCRI has launched two programs to help students overcome barriers that have stopped them from earning their degrees. Second Chance is aimed at students who are unable to continue their education because of past due balances and Finish Now is geared toward those who many not realize they need only 18 or fewer credits to graduate.

The Community College of Rhode Island is committed to breaking down barriers to student success as part of its mission. For many students, these barriers come in the form of finances or time. Two new endeavors, the Second Chance and Finish Now programs, aim to alleviate some of this stress.

Dean of Student Development and Assessment Robert Cipolla said the Second Chance program was launched in May following a push from President Ray Di Pasquale, who wanted to create an "amnesty" program to help students who were unable to continue their college education because of outstanding balances. The college has long had a tuition appeals process whereby students who had mitigating circumstances could appeal to have past due balances eliminated, but the Second Chance program aims to quickly and effectively knock down financial barriers for students who fit the criteria.

Cipolla said more than 5,000 students received letters for the program's first wave to notify them of the criteria and to let them know how to take advantage of the Second Chance program. The requirements stipulate that students have not been enrolled at CCRI for at least five years, have applied for financial aid and are enrolled in a degree program.

In the case that a student has a readmit hold on his or her account, he or she can visit the Office of Enrollment Services to get this lifted. Once a student is approved for the Second Chance program, any past due balance will be deferred until graduation. If the student completes his or her degree within five years of being granted the Second Chance, 100 percent of tuition and fees will be awarded to cover the past due balance in the form of a CCRI Completers Scholarship. At the moment, Cipolla said, there is no cap on the balance size.

Cipolla said there are various pipelines in place to make sure that qualifying students are made aware of the Second Chance program. In addition to the letters, the Bursar's Office will notify students who come in to register for classes and are met with a hold whether they are eligible for the Second Chance program. Academic counselors, Enrollment Services and other Student Services personnel also can inform students of the option, he said.

"It's a tremendous help for any student," said Cipolla. "We've tried to make the criteria very easy to understand and help motivate our students to take advantage of this opportunity. We're trying to remove the barriers the best way we can. The Student Services team is extremely passionate about wanting to reach out to help students, and it's very motivational to have a president who is sensitive to these barriers and will offer these students support."
Cipolla said that 37 students have been approved to take advantage of the Second Chance program.

Finish Now program wraps up first successful pilot phase
While Cipolla posited that financial concerns are a common stumbling block for students who are stalling in their journey to completing college, a past due balance is by no means the only thing standing between students and their diplomas. Finish Now, a joint effort spanning many departments at the Knight and Flanagan campuses, recently wrapped up the first phase of its pilot program in the hopes to proactively address some of these issues.

Director of Admissions Terri Kless explained that the Finish Now initiative was started to identify students who had completed some postsecondary work at the college and then to encourage those students to complete their degree or certificate programs. Knowing the advantages that an associate degree-holding candidate has over those who have no postsecondary education, and seeking to continue the college's outreach to make education an affordable and accessible endeavor for all, Kless and her team built what they described as a "high-touch" effort to get these students back on track toward graduation.

"Having an associate degree is going to be so valuable to these students," said Kless, "and we found that many were actually surprised to discover how few credits they needed to complete and graduate."

The pilot group was winnowed down extensively by Kless and company, who did extensive data mining and research to identify good candidates for the program. The Information Technology Department established an appointment registration website to help smoothly funnel students to appointment slots.

In March, letters went out to 460 students who had GPAs of 2.0 or higher, had not been enrolled in one to three years, did not owe a balance and needed 18 or fewer credits to earn a degree. Calls from student ambassadors, emails and text messages were used to follow up with students who had not responded or missed appointments.

"We wanted to make the process as proactive and friendly as possible," said John Araujo, senior admissions officer.

In the end, Kless said that 35 students reserved and completed 90-minute appointments that included one-on-one sessions with a representative from advising, financial aid and Enrollment Services at either the Warwick or Lincoln campus. Advisers counseled the student on which courses he or she still had left to complete and financial aid then helped the student line up whatever assistance was needed or to help get the student on the appropriate payment plan.

The final meeting with Enrollment Services took care of reapplication, re-enrollment and other logistical issues.

"The feedback from this first group that we received was really positive," said Kless, referring to surveys each student completed about the process. Kless also added that through the selection of the pilot group, the Records Department identified more than 500 students who actually had completed their degree studies but had not filled out graduation paperwork and who were then able to receive degrees backdated to spring.


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Last Updated: 12/17/14