Starting this spring, Colorado State University will be part of a statewide program aimed at giving students a second chance at finishing their college degrees.
Finish What You Started offers financial and academic support to students who have “stopped out” of higher education. CSU has been awarded approximately $3.65 million in state funds that will be used over the next five years to support the program.
“We’re trying to incentivize re–enrollment while also connecting the student with multiple opportunities that contribute to student success,” said Tom Biedscheid, the assistant vice president for enrollment and access. “We’re trying to eliminate all of the barriers that they might have encountered the first time around.”
Students who participate in Finish What You Started will receive a minimum of $5,500 in grants and scholarships each year, as well as the opportunity to be paired with a mentor who helps them navigate everything about college, something that goes well beyond academics.
“It includes support for mental health, budgeting, housing, involvement, and how to prepare for life after graduation, like career or graduate school,“ said Miel McCarthy, the associate director of first generation and foundation scholarships. “The mentoring really includes a whole host of things that are designed to support a student’s holistic development.”
Two types of students qualify for Finish What You Started:
- Those who have earned college credits but did not finish their degrees.
- Those who were admitted to public higher education institutions as first-time students amid the COVID-19 pandemic (2019-2020 or 2020-2021) but ultimately did not enroll.
“Students don’t have to tell us why they stopped out or didn’t finish, we don’t care,” Biedscheid said. “We want to give them this path to college.”
Finish What You Started was launched by the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative in 2021. Thirty-one public universities and community colleges in Colorado are participating in the program, which also connects students with housing, legal and childcare resources.
What makes CSU unique is its partnership network of more than 80 diverse high schools and pre-collegiate programs across Colorado aimed at fulfilling its land-grant mission of making higher education accessible for everyone.
Many of the students who stop out of college or choose not to enroll are low-income and first-generation, which is why financial aid is such an important factor.
“We know anecdotally that many students do not finish their degrees for a plethora of reasons, many out of their control,” said Tae Nosaka, the assistant executive director for the Collaborative for Student Achievement. “We also know that so many of these students have not given up their dream and goals of finishing a college degree and may just need some external support to clear the barriers that are in the way of returning.
“After the investment we made in students to join CSU in the first place, it seems like filling our obligation to reach back out and invite students to come back under different circumstances at a different time to finish their degree and achieve the dreams they set for themselves.”
Nosaka said she’s worked with numerous students in the past who personify what the program is trying to achieve, including one young man who helped raise his younger siblings and nearly dropped out of CSU only a few credits short of graduating for a reason beyond his control.
This led numerous departments on campus to work together to come up with a creative path toward the student completing his degree, a path Nosaka said was “riddled with obstacles, from financial to course options, to modality for completing courses.”
“The day he completed his degree was such a celebration for us,” she said. “This is what FWYS is about – it is about giving hope and one’s future back.”
It also fulfills CSU’s mission as a land grant university.
“Finish What Your Started helps say that we’re going to stand by students by supporting their success, both with financial support as well as mentoring,” McCarthy said. “As humans, we all benefit from being part of communities and lifting each other up.”
For more information about the program at CSU, go to: col.st/dsn33.
Returning or first-time students interested in participating can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.