Last year, Columbia College embarked on a pilot project to get degrees into the hands of more adults. Project Win-Win, funded principally by the Lumina Foundation for Education, seeks to identify former students who withdrew from college for varying reasons but whose academic record already qualifies them for associate degrees. The college then arranges for them to graduate and receive their earned degree.
Columbia College’s Enrollment Management division scrolled through thousands of records and identified more than 2,000 former students. In particular, staff looked for students who dropped out after earning more than 60 credit hours. Qualifying former students were then sent letters saying either that they are eligible for an associate degree and need merely complete a Declaration of Candidacy form; or are darn close to receiving one but still need a few remaining credit hours (nine credit hours or less). Students who had earned a degree are also invited to participate in any upcoming Columbia College commencement ceremony.
Tery Donelson, assistant vice president for Enrollment Management, says the college sent its first letter in January and began awarding degrees within a month. Donelson says many former students were surprised by the letters since they launched their academic career at Columbia College to earn a bachelor degree and didn't realize they could earn an associate degree.
As of mid-April, more than 80 former Columbia College students have been awarded degrees and 25 have returned to school to complete future degrees.
Students like Jason Shreeves, age 30, who’s worked at Country Financial in McHenry, Ill., for five years. Shreeves attended Columbia College of Missouri-Crystal Lake, but had to relinquish his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in business management because life just got too busy.
“Trying to work and raise a daughter [now 11 years old] — it was just too much.”
Shreeves did find his way back to a community college, and is now very close to earning a bachelor’s degree. He says he’s thinking about getting an MBA from Columbia College down the road; he’s already visited the Crystal Lake campus to learn more about the program.
"I like that I can get a degree locally," he says. "A degree in my field is very important."
And students like Allison Mitchell, a medical lab technician at Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in Columbia, Mo. When she received her confirmatory letter, Mitchell says she thought it was a gimmick until she checked with Columbia College — then "I was like, 'Heck yeah!' Yay me," she says.
Mitchell had to quit college due to family obligations. "Trying to be the mom, the wife, the teacher — it was stressful," she says.
Mitchell says being awarded the degree persuaded her to go back to school, and she recently applied to the Columbia College Nursing Program.
"It [the associate degree] gives me a boost to jump back into my education and finish. It's like I came this far, why not to finish now?" Mitchell says.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon agrees. “This grant will help more Missourians obtain college degrees, making them better prepared to compete for the jobs of the future,” reads a statement from the governor’s office. “As one of only six states selected by the Lumina Foundation and the Institute for Higher Education Policy to receive these funds, Missouri will be able to boost graduation rates for former students, including those who may be just a few credits short of earning their degrees.”
Win-Win is a partnership of the State Higher Education Executive Officers and Institute for Higher Education Policy and is backed by the nation’s governors and President Obama.
Columbia College is one of just 64 colleges and universities in nine states participating in the program. Columbia College’s participation will end late next year.