Finish Strong Program Helps Students Complete Studies

Joe Botelho has returned to Rhode Island College to complete his communications studies.

Joe Botelho has returned to Rhode Island College to complete his communications studies.


Rhode Island College is actively reaching out to help former students complete their degree through its Finish Strong program, which puts a formal name to an effort begun by Academic Affairs in August 2011.

A resource team has been formed to support the initiative, compromised of representatives from admissions, financial aid, records, the office of academic support and information services and the bursar’s office. Each representative is a specialist who can focus on the specific needs or barriers for former students to complete.

Students who left in good academic standing will have a transcript review completed to determine what they need to complete their degree.  The review will also include an evaluation of any credits taken since the student left RIC.  A member of the resource team will then guide them through the simple process to become an active degree student again.  Students who left RIC with an outstanding financial obligation or were in academic difficulty will be able to work with a member of the resource team on personalized plans that lead to their becoming degree students again.

“This program is about the value of an education,” said Holly Shadoian, interim assistant vice president, academic affairs said. “Earning power increases with a degree.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report, “The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings,” found that average lifetime earnings increased from $1.2 million for high school graduates to $2.1 million for workers with a bachelor’s degree and $2.5 million for those with a master’s degree.

There are many reasons why students may leave Rhode Island College before finish their degree, Shadoian said.

“It could have been for these students that life got in the way,” she said. “They may have started a family or moved away. Sometimes students change their minds about what they were studying or have been out of the classroom and don’t know how they can fit college back in. RIC is a welcoming place. We want to know how we can help make finishing happen for them.”

Joe Botelho left Rhode Island College in 1991 to pursue a business opportunity. At the time, he was just two classes away from earning his bachelor’s degree. He returned to RIC in fall 2012 to complete his communication degree.

“Experience in my business life has shown me the value of a degree and what it represents,” he said, adding that he also wanted to finish his degree in order to be a good role model for his children and to be able to compete in today’s job market. “Who knows where this will take me?”

Academic Affairs has partnered with RIC’s Learning for Life (L4L) program, a college and community partnership that connects students with the supports they need (whether academic, financial or career-related) to navigate a direct course to college completion.  Former RIC students in need of these supports when they return are eligible to become Learning for Life Scholars, according to Chris Lambert, project manager for Learning for Life.

The office of continuing education and professional studies will support Finish Strong by working to increase the number of hybrid and online course offerings and the number of early-spring and summer session courses.

The largest challenge for the program will be collecting updated contact information for former students. Shadoian encourages alumni and friends of the college to reach out to family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors who began at RIC but never finished their degrees.  “Encourage them to take that first step and visit,” Shadoian said.