Ohio State creates program to bring back dropouts to earn their degrees

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Ohio State University hopes its new initiative to bring back dropouts to complete their degrees helps more students such as Columbus resident Aspen Bauman.

When the food business management major left Ohio State, he said having to work to pay for school caused him to struggle in his studies and fail a class.

Now, through a new program called Complete Ohio State, Bauman got financial assistance, returned to his studies and graduates this year.

“I probably would have been gone longer had they not contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we have a way for you to come back,’ ” Bauman recently told Ohio State. “I don’t have to work as many hours, and I have time to study and focus on class.”

Bauman is one of at least 3,000 in a pilot program that targeted students that enrolled after 2013.

David Graham, assistant vice provost for student academic success at Ohio State, told Columbus Business First that the program officially launched before Covid-19, but the pandemic caused them to pause and focus on helping current students stay in school. Now, that outreach is again extending to dropouts.

“The pandemic slowed the process,” Graham said. “We’re ramping it back up now.”

He said that the top reason why students leave Ohio State before completing a degree are “personal family reasons,” followed by financial hardships and academic struggles.

“Our goal is to try to create institutional conditions so students can continue to persist and complete,” Graham said. “It’s the right thing to do for the community, being the flagship school for the state. We know it will be good for the state and good for the economy if we can create more adults with college degrees.”

The school has put aside a $200,000 fund to help students with financial challenges. The fund could grow it it receives a good response.

“If a student has a financial hold or financial issues, we have money set aside,” Graham said. “We don’t have a dollar limit (per student), but it’s more about making sure their needs are met in a reasonable way so they can complete.”

Beyond financial support, Ohio State provides case management support to help students re-enroll, as well as connecting them to advisers who can help them navigate red tape and help them through their studies.

The program is targeted to students who had at least a 2.0 GPA and were no more than 30 credit hours from getting their degrees.

“These students know they’re close, but there are other life factors going on that just makes school not their top priority right now,” said Kris Wethington, who manages the program for Ohio State.

If the program grows, it could help the more than 10% of OSU students who don’t stay in school after the third year.

For students who started in 2017, the most recent data available, 85.7% of students continued after their third year of college. That means more than 14% had left by 2020.

The retention rates are lower for African American students and Latino students. The three-year retention rate for African American students is 80.9% and 84.3% for Latino students. For white students, it is 86.2%.

Ohio State’s most recent four-year graduation rate is 68.7%. That rate measures students who started in 2016 who earned a degree in by 2020.

African American students had a 50.3% four-year graduation rate, while white students had a 70% four-year graduation rate.

“For these students who maybe need a little bit more of a connection … I want them to know that they are important and that their goals are important,” Wethington said. “Completing that degree can have a huge impact on what they’re able to do in the future.”

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