July 19, 2024


Education, What Else?

Incentivizing students to graduate before they stop out

4 min read

’Canes Complete supports University of Miami students with financial assistance and academic advising to reach degree completion.

Mariano Copello/University of Miami

The University of Miami promotes graduation among undergraduate students by providing financial and personalized support to create the most expeditious path to graduation.

University leaders created ’Canes Complete (with a nod to students as Hurricanes) to help students facing unique challenges return to college and finish their bachelor’s degrees. Since the program launch, more than 100 students have graduated, improving the institution’s graduation rates.

What’s the need: A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found the population of students who stopped out of college without completing grew by 1.4 million learners between July 2020 and July 2021, an increase of 3.6 percent compared to the year prior.

At the University of Miami, administrators noticed a trend among students who were near graduation who would stop out due to a variety of personal or financial reasons, says John Haller, vice president of enrollment management. As a result, the university began outreach to eligible students, regardless of enrollment status, to move them back toward degree completion.

The initiative started in 2012 and became a formalized program in 2015, says Darby Plummer, executive director of student success and first-year foundations.

How it works: Outreach is done in various ways. Some students receive a mailed brochure to their permanent address, which links to a webpage with additional information and a form to submit for more information. Three times a year, staff in the Cane Success Center reach out to eligible students via emails, phone calls and texts to share program opportunities.

Once in the program, students and staff work together to figure out the quickest, least expensive path to degree completion, Plummer says. This path development takes place through in-depth interviews with the students as staff evaluate their ability to return to campus, financial resources and the student’s desired academic path to completion.

Students in ’Canes Complete often take one of three forks to finishing: completing their original program of study, completing a bachelor of general studies or just tying up loose ends.

Sometimes the final step to a degree doesn’t require the student to return to campus or complete an additional course, but it does require processing transfer credits, finishing a pending grade change or wrapping up an incomplete course.

If a student needs to finish one or several classes, they can take those online or in person, depending on where the student is located.

The bachelor of general studies program can be completed online or through Saturday courses and is offered at a lower tuition rate than on-campus classes, making it more accessible for students with more than one term left. The B.G.S. program allows students to create an individualized area of concentration that is most interesting or relevant to their studies.

“In all cases, the Cane Success Center will support the student in addressing any other challenges that could interfere with their degree completion—such as applying for financial assistance or finding accommodations,” Plummer says.

The logistics: ’Canes Complete helps to tear down existing barriers on the road to degree completion and also meet student where they are.

If personal finances are a barrier to finishing, ’Canes Complete provides grant funding for students within 15 credits of degree completion.

A present hurdle for ’Canes Complete is working with students with a past-due balance who cannot be readmitted or re-enroll. U Miami doesn’t have a process to forgive previous debt to the institution, and many students cannot produce those funds on their own.

Most often, staff have a challenge encouraging a student to return to the institution for personal reasons or students don’t see the return on investment, Plummer explains.

“It is hard to develop a plan that works for students who no longer live in the area or who now have work or family obligations, [or] getting students to re-engage when their current job doesn’t seem to require that they complete their degree—creating that sense of urgency and value in the degree can be an uphill battle sometimes,” Plummer explains.

The impact: Since 2012, 169 students have graduated through ’Canes Complete support, improving Miami’s six-year graduation rate by around 1.5 percentage points each year, Haller says.

One graduate of ’Canes Complete recently reached back out to Plummer, sharing his plans to go to medical school. That student is just one indication, Plummer adds, of the long-term impact an initiative like this can have on a student’s trajectory in higher education.

Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to correctly identify the University of Miami.

This story was submitted to us by a reader just like you! Share your student success initiatives with us here.

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