DENVER, Colo. — Going to college doesn’t end in graduation for everyone. There are more than 35 million Americans with some college credits, but no degree. That’s more than 20% of the working-age population.
“We know that students hit roadblocks,” said Megan Scherzberg, the executive director for orientation, transfer and re-engagement at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
For some students, the passion fades and there’s no support for students to find a new path in school. That’s what happened to Adel Ishnenah.
“In the beginning, I did aviation to be a commercial pilot, but somehow along the way, I figured out that a pilot is not what I want to do anymore,” said Ishnenah, who initially enrolled in college classes several years ago.
Ishnenah took a break from college to decide on a new major, so he started working. What was meant as a short time off turned into three years away from school.
“I just came to a point of I just can’t be working for this minimum wage. I got to go back to school and get my degree back, because I have to finish what I started, you know?” said Ishnenah.
Tuition costs almost kept him from applying to schools, but he found a new program available at the Metropolitan State University of Denver that was made for students like him.
“The goal of this program is to help folks with some college and no degree get back to college and get put into a career path where they're able to graduate, complete their degree and enter the world, making livable wages to support themselves and their families,” said Scherzberg.
It’s called the Finish What You Started Program. It’s inspired Ishnenah to find a major he loves.
“Right now, I'm studying cybersecurity,” said Ishnenah. “I figured out they paid good. I get to work from home, and I get to travel. So, like this major is what I want to do.”
The Colorado statewide pilot program gives students scholarships to finish their degree, and each student gets a mentor to make sure no one gets left behind. There are also emergency funds available to help students pay past due tuition balances or other expenses.
The team at MSU Denver is doing all they can to remove barriers for students.
“The help they offer me, I'm pretty sure I will do good in school. I'm pretty good, sure that I'm not going to fail again,” said Ishnenah.
This support is sorely needed to get skilled workers back on the job or to get those workers into higher-paying jobs. Finishing college could give 20% of working Americans a chance for a better-paying career.
“Since the pandemic, and one of the larger reasons why this initiative has come about is because we have seen a drop in enrollment at public higher institutions in the state of Colorado, as well as unemployment, job losses. I think it can really help change life trajectory and help them earn and get to the career they want,” said Scherzberg.
Researchers found unfinished degrees can also contribute to less diversity and innovation in the workplace. Scherzberg is hoping this initiative will both enrich students’ lives and boost the economy.
“Higher education is really kind of the doorway to opportunity for so many, and so, I do really hope that this stands out as a token program for other folks across higher ed to learn from,” said Scherzberg.
For Ishnenah, it’s a doorway to a different future. One he hopes more students will get the chance to walk through.
“We have a lot of struggling students out there and everybody just needs a second chance,” said Ishnenah.
If you'd like to sign up for the Finish What you Started Program, you can sign up HERE.