Miss. pushes former students to finish college

Mississippi officials will target as many as 158,000 students who have completed some college courses, but no degree, under a new program encouraging them to go back to school.

The state will launch a Complete 2 Compete website on June 26 to urge people to finish community college or university degrees.

Mississippi College Board trustees last week gave preliminary approval to a framework that will allow the state’s eight public universities to develop adult degree completion programs for students who have earned more than three years’ worth of credit but have been out of school for more than two years.

Census figures show 29 percent of Mississippians older than 25 have a two-year or four-year college degree, but another 23 percent attended college and never earned a degree. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is backing the effort, said when it was announced in November that a better-qualified workforce would help the state’s economy and raise incomes.

Each university will be able to tailor the program to its individual needs. Universities will be able to disregard previous failing grades. They will also be able to award credit for career technical courses, evaluations of prior knowledge or training, or student-demonstrated competencies. Students will need a C average to graduate, and will have to earn at least one year of credits through the university awarding the degree.

State student assistance

Casey Turnage, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the College Board, said the state departments of Human Services and Employment Security are giving money to launch the program. Turnage said the state aims to provide financial aid to people who are returning to school. The money could be used to cover remaining costs after returning students apply for other kinds of financial aid, or even be used to pay off debts that former students may still owe to colleges or universities.

Turnage said the 158,000 people that universities and community colleges will target had left college in the last 15 years without completing their degrees.

She said as many as 30,000 people have two years’ worth of academic credit and may be eligible to receive an associate degree without further classwork. Some of those people started at a community college and later transferred to a university, but their degrees can be awarded through a reverse transfer back to a community college. Turnage said as many as 2,300 people have four years’ worth of academic credit and may be eligible to receive a bachelor’s degree without further work.

When officials first launch the website, they plan to target 10 percent of the students who could get a degree without further coursework as a pilot effort to make sure their processes are ready.

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