Like many colleges and universities around the United States, the University of Memphis recognized that a segment of its student population needed additional supports and pathways to drive higher degree completion rates. One of the programs the University implemented to help address this need is the Finish Line Program, managed by their Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.

The program targets students who previously attended the University of Memphis and completed 90 or more credit hours but had to suspend their studies for various reasons. Typically, the primary reason for withdrawal for a student so far along in the degree pipeline is that they have run out of financial aid and often need to go to work to help support a family. In some cases, “life” simply gets in the way. While many intend to return the following semester, one semester away from school turns into five years before they know it, as there never seems to be a good time to return.

Memphis began contacting these students to offer them low cost pathways to return to the University to complete their degrees, including suggesting select Saylor Academy courses. For the Saylor courses, administrators collaborated with faculty to create a course review rubric used to determine if the courses and assessments provided students with the ability to demonstrate college level learning. Upper level electives were of particular need and we were pleased to gain favorable reviews from a skeptical (at first) faculty for several courses.

“Our faculty review and approval of these Saylor courses was a game changer for our program. It is one thing to contact a student and encourage them to finish their degree. It is an entirely different conversation when you can offer them a low-cost option to complete their remaining requirements.”

— Tracy Robinson, Director, Innovative Academic Initiatives for the University of Memphis.

In the program’s initial phase, students to date have saved over $150,000 on Saylor courses alone and the Finish Line program has produced 123 graduates. As of March 1, 2016 the numbers have grown with 172 previously enrolled Memphis students returning to their studies and ultimately graduated. Among that group, students successfully completed a total of 223 Saylor courses, earning 669 credit hours at a total cost savings of over $217,000.

Aniysha Tate completed four of Saylor Academy’s online, self-paced courses that had been pre-assessed by faculty members through the Experiential Learning Credit program. Working with the Finish Line team, Aniysha graduated earning the bachelor’s degree she thought was just out of her reach.

Christy Taylor shares a similar story. Christy was forced to halt her studies when she ran out of financial aid. She had been out of school two years when she learned of the Finish Line program. Christy completed three Saylor courses to help her earn her degree. She tells us: “I am so thankful for the Finish Line program, the Saylor program and the two coming together to help me become a graduate.”

This early impact for students who would not yet have completed their degrees is truly exciting, and early successes can certainly be expanded upon at Memphis and beyond.

Students have returned to University of Memphis to complete degrees across a range of majors including Philosophy, Biology, Earth Sciences, Child Development, Management and Interdisciplinary Studies. The Finish Line program is set to expand this academic year and we look forward to working with the University to help many more future graduates!

You can learn more about the Finish Line program here.

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