Ky. colleges invite back students who fell just short of graduating

By Ashton Smith

Just when he was considering other possibilities for his future, Andrew Slayton received a letter from President Lee Todd inviting him to come back to school.

For Slayton, who left UK without a degree 10 years ago, going back seemed overwhelming until he realized how little he had left to finish.

“Life got in the way earlier, but I just felt like I had some unfinished business at school,” Slayton said. “Turns out I only had two classes left to take.”

Project Graduate, a program launched by Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education in November, has found 11,000 students like Slayton, and is trying to help them get back to colleges and universities across the state to finish their degrees and raise the number of Kentucky college graduates.

The program has sent letters to approximately 950 former UK students between 25 and 50 years old who have previously earned 90 or more credit hours, inviting them to come back, said Cecile McKinney, Project Graduate’s UK representative. About 100 people have responded to the letters, she said.

The project tries to make the transition easier by providing academic advisers trained specifically for non-traditional students and a special degree audit to help adult learners figure out what classes they still need for graduation, McKinney said.

The CPE hosted an Adult Learners Summit in Lexington earlier this week to discuss how to make atmospheres conducive to nontraditional students’ learning needs.

Jim Applegate, vice president for academic affairs at the CPE, said non-traditional students’ lifestyles often make it hard for them to return to school because of scheduling and atmospheric issues. Many campuses, including UK’s, are geared more toward traditional student lifestyles, Applegate said, something that people with day jobs may find difficult.

“Financial aid and scholarships are often geared for out-of-high-school seniors,” Applegate said. “Changing this and adding flexibility to the traditional college life will appeal to these students.”

This week’s summit explored some of those problems, and nontraditional students assessed how well colleges are accommodating them.

Those assessments will hopefully help schools understand how to cater to their adult students, Applegate said.

Although the transition has been challenging, Slayton said the initiatives Project Graduate has taken have already made a difference.

“It’s somewhat of a balancing act, between school, the kids and a job,” he said. “I will have some juggling to do, but this was 10 times easier than before.”