Texas State, partnered with ReUp Education, has provided $1.5 million in grant funding to support former students' journeys back to the university to finish their degree plans.
Texas State received the grant as part of the Texas Reskilling Support Fund Grant Program from the U.S. Department of Education's Education Stabilization Fund Program via the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund. The $46.5 million in funding was established to aid in the continuation of education for students significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university will use the award money to support Bring Bobcats Back, a program created in 2018 to encourage students to return to Texas State and complete their degrees.
Dr. Todd Sherron, an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Organization, Workforce and Leadership Studies (OWLS) and writer of the grant application, says Bring Bobcats Back is a university-wide incentive available to all former students, from any college at the university, who meet the criteria.
“Students may be eligible to receive up to $2,500 per semester for tuition and fees until they graduate,” Sherron says. “This is [an] amazing opportunity for students to complete their degree."
To qualify for the financial aid, returning students must:
- Be a Texas resident eligible for in-state tuition;
- Have filed a free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA);
- Demonstrated financial need;
- Be eligible for federal Title IV aid;
- Must be within 12 months or 75% or more of completing their degree;
- Must confirm they were affected by COVID-19 as determined by the university;
In 2020, a record number of 1,773 students withdrew from Texas State — up 13% from 2019. This, in large part, was due to COVID-19, which 529 students cited as their reason for dropping out.
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Gary Ray says if they re-enroll, those students are eligible to receive the grant and can begin work toward graduating with a degree.
“[Texas State] began to look for those students who enrolled, who've been out at least two semesters or six months. [Texas State] is currently, right now, looking to see who’s eligible within the current enrollment, to award the first reskilling grants to them,” Ray says.
Ray adds the program is not exclusive to former Bobcats, and anyone looking to complete their degree, regardless of where they began their post-secondary education, is encouraged to apply.
To combat the steep increase of withdrawals and help reach out to former students, Texas State partnered with ReUp Education, a college retention organization that focuses on creating a pathway for students who have some college experience but no degree.
Mira Fontana, director of partner success at ReUp Education, says the organization reaches out and provides individualized support to every student through personal communication, success coaches and career exploration tools.
Coaches are responsible for providing resources and answering questions until the day new graduates cross the stage. Sometimes the process can take much longer due to students having jobs and families to juggle. ReUp Education maintains a connection with those students and offers continued support until they are ready to get back on track.
“Some students are in a place where their motivation is right there and they re-enroll fairly quickly, but with others, we work sometimes for two, three years before they even attempt re-enrollment,” Fontana says.
Since its partnership with the university began in August 2020, ReUp has successfully reached 9,600 Texas State students and engaged with over 1,700 who are considering a return to college or in various stages of applying to the university.
“Of those 1,745, [ReUp Education] has re-enrolled 173 and four have already graduated,” Fontana says. “It's such a quick and meaningful win because some of our students who have dropped out, they’re so close to completion that just the right support and motivation and resources and tools can get them there very fast.”
Ray says he understands the power of education and is looking forward to helping students through this unique program.
“This spring, we have 147 re-enrolled students that we worked to get back. We are targeting a goal of 350 by fall of 2021,” Ray says.
To apply for the Bring Bobcats Back grant, students can visit the Bobcat Online Scholarship System (BOSS).