Even as Boise State prepares to welcome a new class of freshmen to campus this fall, the university is supporting students who have started earning their degrees, but who haven’t finished for any number of reasons, whether financial, personal or something in-between. The reasons people leave college aren’t always negative, said Rebecca Morgan, director of Bronco ReConnect, a College of Innovation and Design program designed to help students finish degrees they started. Sometimes students’ lives change. Sometimes they move, have a baby or find a full-time job.
“You can have a good job without a college degree. Until you reach that point where need a college degree. And then you needed it yesterday,” she said.
Morgan speaks from experience. She began college at Boise State, then left to go to work. Her lack of degree wasn’t an issue until she sought a promotion, and the fact that she didn’t have one held her back. She returned to Boise State after 16 years away. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees while working and raising a family.
“I always say that you have jobs, you have careers and you have callings,” said Morgan. “The latter is what makes you jump out of bed in the mornings.”
Her current calling is at Boise State, helping students who have stories similar to hers. Morgan’s office began actively reaching out last year to students who might be a fit for Bronco ReConnect. Four “returning” students have earned their degrees so far. Another six are currently working with the program. In coming months, Morgan and her staff will reach out to thousands more students.
Often, finishing a degree is easier than students think, Morgan said. She worked with a student last year who had no missing credits. The student just needed to do the paperwork to apply for graduation. Some situations are more complicated, but Boise State’s five-person Bronco ReConnect staff is prepared to find solutions through personalized advising.
“A key word for these students is ‘advocate,'” said Jon Schneider, interim director of Multidisciplinary Studies and Bachelor of Science programs, “and we’ve tried to fulfill that role for them.”
Advisors can connect students with scholarship opportunities and find courses that fulfill requirements. They can look for alternative paths, including helping students get college credit for work outside of the traditional classroom setting.
“It’s important for students to know that for most programs there’s an advisor or someone who’s connected to the program they’re interested in who can really spend time with them, figure out what happened before and connect them to the right resources to finish their degrees,” said Schneider.
Dani Dayton, a Bronco ReConnect alumna, started at Boise State in 2004.
“As a non-traditional student with a full-time job, I tended to take classes at a rate of one-half to three-quarter time, with occasional semester breaks depending on what was happening in my work and personal life,” said Dayton.
She left college in 2012 after falling a few points short on the College Level Examination Program exam that would have given her the sole math credit she needed to graduate. She always intended to finish and eventually connected with Morgan.
“I wrote a letter and explained exactly how onerous and discouraging I found the whole process and asked her to share that information with the administration, even if it wouldn’t help me, so they could have some perspective as to why their outreach efforts weren’t working,” said Dayton.
To her surprise, Morgan wrote back. The two began talking.
“We discussed the obstacles I was facing and together, with Jon Schneider, we figured out a way to overcome every one,” said Dayton.
Dayton, who lives in rural Maine, was able to finish her communication degree by taking an online math class during a 10-week summer session in 2017. She was even able to take her final exam at a local college near her home. At the end of the exam, learning she’d passed, she hugged the woman who was serving as exam proctor and had a banana split.
Now, degree in hand, Dayton works as a freelance editor for a company that coaches high school students through the college admissions process and essays. She and her husband own a “microfarm” where they grow produce to sell at farmers’ markets. She’s grateful, she said, for Morgan and Schneider’s guidance, “and more importantly, their genuine compassion.”
“Of course, I had to uphold my end, meet them in the middle, be patient with a couple of small roadblocks, and do the coursework. But all of that was easy once I realized I had actually been heard,” said Dayton.
As she’d requested, Morgan and Schneider shared her letter with the administration. Schneider read the letter, word for word, during a Bronco ReConnect presentation before the university’s administrative council.
New money for studies
This year, in addition to the personalized advising, Bronco ReConnect has a new selling point, the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship for Adult Learners, available for the first time in the fall of 2018.
“This is quite the hand-up,” said Morgan. She advocated for years, she said, for lawmakers to approve this scholarship that also has the support of Gov. Butch Otter. It’s compatible with Complete College Idaho, the Idaho State Board of Education initiative to increase the number of Idahoans with college degrees or certificates.
The new scholarship comes with requirements — students need to have a GPA of 2.7, need to have earned at least 24 credits toward the 120 required for an undergraduate degree, and need to have been away from college for at least 24 months — but it provides $3,500 per year towards tuition. That’s roughly enough to pay for nine credits, or a manageable part-time schedule for students with other responsibilities, said Morgan. The scholarship is renewable for up to four years. One thousand scholarships will be available to Idahoans in 2018.
“The university has so many options for people, but you don’t know that until you’re here,” said Morgan. “There will be someone here who knows your story. We’re going to reconnect with you. It’s not too late.”
In addition to Bronco ReConnect, Boise State offers a subscription-based tuition program, Passport to Education, for employees and members of CapEd credit union who have not completed their degrees. The university also offers Bronco Connect, a program that helps associate degree holders from the College of Western Idaho make a smooth transition to Boise State to earn their bachelor’s degrees.