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For Immediate Release

Sept. 30, 2004   

Contact: Chancellor Richard Wells
(920) 424-0200

UW System project to increase number of state residents with degrees

OSHKOSH – The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is taking the lead in a project to help students who are close to graduation return to school and complete their college degrees.

The “Oshkosh Graduation Project” is a pilot program aimed at college seniors who left the university in good academic standing just before completing their degrees. UW-River Falls, which has identified more than 700 students with similar standings, will be following suit, and UW-Eau Claire is strongly considering a similar program.

“We strongly believe this program will give academically qualified individuals the chance to complete a degree, improve their earning power and contribute more to their community and the state of Wisconsin,” said UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard H. Wells. “We also believe it will demonstrate an efficient and effective way to increase the number of students who graduate.”

In June, a U.S. Census Bureau survey found that Wisconsin ranked 32nd among states in the percentage of its residents with four-year college degrees.

The “Oshkosh Graduation Project,” modeled after a successful program at the University of New Mexico, will focus on Fox Valley and Wisconsin residents. UW-Oshkosh anticipates that about 95 percent of the returning students will be state residents who are at least 25 years old.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly said the campus-based projects could add as many as 4,000 UW System graduates to the state’s workforce in just five years.

“The students returning to complete their degrees through this systemwide project would be men and women now working and raising families in our state,” Reilly said. “Encouraging them to complete their bachelor’s degrees could mean a huge payback, not only for those state residents, but also for the economic future of Wisconsin, because they would qualify for better paying jobs as college graduates.”

Research shows that many of those leaving college just before earning a degree depart because of job, family and other pressures, not because they are academically unqualified.

For example, as many as 1,500 seniors in good academic standing left UW-Oshkosh in the past 10 years. The number throughout the entire UW System could be more than 15,000.

For the project’s initial phase, UW-Oshkosh officials have identified 100 students within a semester of graduation who did not continue enrollment during the past five years. All carried at least a 2.5 grade-point average.

UW-Oshkosh academic advisers have identified the courses each of these students needs to graduate. The students are being invited to return to UW-Oshkosh, where they will receive priority enrollment for the courses they need and be teamed with an academic adviser to guide them toward successful degree completion.

“This pilot project will provide valuable information on the needs of returning students, as well as what resources are needed to make a project like this work for the entire UW System,” said John Berens, associate vice chancellor for enrollment and information services, who worked with Wells and others on the project.

Wells said similar pilots are being considered by other UW schools and by members of NEW ERA (Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance), a consortium of two- and four-year UW campuses, technical colleges and the College of the Menominee Nation.

“NEW ERA members are committed to helping each other’s students succeed in completing their degrees,” Wells said. “If a returning UW-Oshkosh student needs three courses to complete a degree and we can only offer two, we will work with another NEW ERA member that can provide the final course.”

Making it easier for qualified students to return to school to complete their degrees would benefit everyone, Wells said.

“Wisconsin already has invested substantial resources in these students, as have the students themselves and their families,” he said. “An increase in the percentage of state residents holding bachelor’s degrees would be a tremendous return-on-investment for the state.”

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