Welcome Back, the newest program created by the Graduation Initiative team aims to facilitate the return of students who left UTSA before graduation.

The program, established in Fall 2006, has a record of approximately 3,000 students who attended UTSA from 1989 to spring 2009, and have abandoned their undergraduate studies.

Invitations were sent last fall to students who left the university with good academic and financial standings.

The program is currently headed by retention and graduation analyst Diane Elizondo. She said that 144 students were invited to return to UTSA.

Out of the group, 17 had graduated at another institution, and 125 expressed interest in returning to pursue their degree. Because of the invitation, 42 students have registered for this spring semester as of Jan. 15.

To assist students in completing their degree, the Welcome Back program lists three objectives: to research for effectiveness and to identify areas for improvement, to share information and to collaborate with other university offices and a variety of programs to help students complete their degree.

In their graduation improvement plan, the Graduation Initiative team has identified five barriers: problems with academic advising, student under-preparation, course availability, reliance on adjunct faculty and cost of education. The team will use the knowledge gained through their research to help returning student to graduate.

“Some people only need to complete paperwork and in other cases, some only need to take a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam to receive their degree,” Elizondo said.

Dr. Michael Ryan, associate professor of psychology, thinks the program is a good idea. “Their lives were complicated in some fashion. I don’t know if we can shoot for a 100 percent graduation rate, but as it stands, they’re probably not going to come back unless we give them some encouragement,” Ryan said.

The program works with these students by creating a personal relationship, working with the advising center to share different options to the students, creating financial aid workshops, offering a midterm boot camp to help these students academically and awarding a $1,000 grant for the first semester of enrollment at UTSA.

The team aims to increase UTSA’s graduation rate. The university is required to report to the state legislature; however, according to Ryan, students in this program have long passed the six-year requirement, which is the last point at which retention is measured.

Clint Rodenfels, director of graduate initiative, said that Welcome Back was prompted by the “Close the Gap” initiative, which is aimed at closing the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research in Texas and other states.

Other programs such as Late Intervention, Student Money & Time Matters and Dialing for Freshman are other examples of programs the Graduation Initiative team have enacted to help students with common issues of college life.

Dr. Sandy Norman, chair of the math department, said that the graduate initiative team is made up of super people to work with.

“I can’t think of anybody who’s more innovative or more creative and more hardworking in terms of putting things together that will help,” Norman said.

“But we can talk about building a store of good will for the community. I have a funny feeling that these students who come back to complete their degree probably made their way in the work place, and having gotten their degree [they] might be very committed alumni. And maybe in the long range we see alumni donations coming,” Ryan said.

Rodenfels said that aside from awarding a small grant, the team does not offer extra resources; instead students are introduced to the resources the university offers to help them succeed.

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