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Project Graduate boosts adult degree completion

Jenny Smith, who earned her music degree from Northern Kentucky University last year through Project Graduate.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 18, 2012) — Imagine you’re only a few courses shy of earning your college degree and still want to finish what you started all those years ago, but with a busy lifestyle filled with work and family responsibilities, you figure there’s just no way.

If this situation describes you, Kentucky’s universities have a message for you — they want you back, and they will provide adult learner advocates and incentives to make your transition a smooth one.

Thanks to a program known as Project Graduate, adults with 80 or more credit hours are not only getting back on track, they are graduating. Project Graduate is a statewide program offered at all Kentucky public universities.

“Adult learners are critical to improving the quality of Kentucky’s workforce. We’re very pleased that our campuses have stepped up efforts to meet the needs of these adults who are very close to a degree,” said Bob King, Council on Postsecondary Education president.

Jenny Smith, who earned her music degree from Northern Kentucky University last year through Project Graduate, had dropped out of college her last semester years ago.

“All the years of delay, fears, concerns and procrastination were put to rest in only 18 months, thanks to the fantastic staff of Project Graduate,” she said.

Vicki Berling, executive director of NKU’s Office of Educational Outreach, said that campuses assess students’ needs and work out an academic plan “without forcing them to repeat a bunch of things they’ve already done.”

Smith said the help she received made all the difference.

“By the time I walked from Vicki Berling’s office, I was signed up for two online courses and had filed for financial aid,” she said. “The encouragement didn’t end there. Whenever I had a question or concern, Vicki was there helping to guide me. It was an amazing 18 months.”

Behind the scenes, campus Project Graduate advocates work with chairs, deans’ offices and administrators to make the process invisible to the student. Officials know that coming back to college after students have been out is difficult enough. Having to work with a dozen people would be daunting.

“We try to make it seamless for the students so they just have to contact one person at NKU,” said Debbie Poweleit, associate director of Educational Outreach and the Project Graduate and PACE contact at NKU. The program works the same at other institutions.

With the help of Project Graduate, former Uof L basketball player Marques Maybin recently earned a degree in psychology from UofL. He had dropped out in 2001 to play professional basketball in Europe.

This past May at the University of Louisville, two former Cardinal basketball stars, Marques Maybin and DeJuan Wheat, crossed the finish line with a bachelor’s degree in hand.

Maybin was a top scorer for the Cardinals from 1999 to 2001 before he left the university to play professional basketball in Europe. He was partially paralyzed in a 2003 motorcycle accident and resumed his UofL studies a few years later.

Maybin earned a degree in psychology, and was thankful for the support system at UofL.

“Everyone pushed just as hard as I have. It really feels like a team reward,” he said.

He offered a couple of reasons for why he wanted to return. “You don’t want to disappoint your family” and he couldn’t wait “to stick Louisville Alumni on my license plate.”

Wheat, the Cardinal’s second all-time high scorer, left UofL in 1997 and played 12 seasons of professional basketball before retiring.

Wheat noted returning to college was not easy but he never lost sight of his goal. “Getting your degree is one of the greatest accomplishments in life,” said Wheat, who graduated with a degree in sociology.

In addition to Project Graduate, Maybin and Wheat both received assistance from the Houston-Bridgeman Fellows Cardinal Degree Completion Program.

Through spring 2011, more than one year ago, 605 former students had completed a bachelor’s degree with the assistance of Project Graduate, and another 651 were enrolled in fall 2011.

Campus incentives vary by institution and can include application fee waivers, priority enrollment, personalized academic plans, simplified admissions paperwork, one-on-one academic advising, career counseling and study support skills. At least a couple of institutions also offer tuition assistance and credit for prior learning.

To find out more about the Project Graduate, and to locate advocates and incentives, visit http://www.knowhow2goky.org/pg/index.php.