Everyone wants college students to complete their degrees, to get to the finish line. But sometimes life happens — and obstacles emerge that can cause a student to stumble. Concordia University, St. Paul is using new outside funding to provide grants and other support for students who are closing in on their degrees but need a bit more help to reach their goal. The efforts at Concordia University were featured alongside others at Saint Paul College in a piece that Erin Hinrichs wrote recently for MinnPost, the nonprofit online news source covering Minnesota. Here’s an excerpt from that in-depth article.
For Pakhoua Vang, 21, the transition from Como Park Senior High in St. Paul to Concordia University was fairly simple. The campus sat just three miles southwest of her alma mater, where she’d participated in a program called College Possible that had helped her prepare for the ACT exam and apply for scholarships. Plus, she already knew a lot of students on campus, she says. Then, her freshman year, she was assigned an adviser who met with her a couple of times each month to talk about things like what major she was interested in pursuing, what scholarships she could apply for, how her studies were going and what she wanted to get out of her college experience. Along the way, she acquired a faculty adviser who served as a mentor as well.
This spring, she’ll be completing her degree in international studies with a minor in Hmong studies. She spent an entire year studying abroad in South Korea and is currently serving as president of the Hmong and Global Student clubs.
But Vang says the start of her senior year was marked by a period of financial uncertainty that made her question whether she’d even be able to complete her degree. After her parents’ housing situation changed, she no longer qualified for some of the financial aid she’d been relying on.
“I had to quickly find jobs that would adjust to my schedule,” she says, noting that even with two on-campus jobs at 15 hours a week, she wasn’t able to cover her tuition.
In her moment of crisis, she was referred to a faculty member who oversees a small pot of emergency funds that help students weather unexpected roadblocks to graduation. With the assistance of some additional scholarships, Vang says she was able to pay off the majority of her tuition and is now looking to continue her studies at the University of St. Thomas.
Traditionally, there’s been a lot of focus on the barriers students face in accessing college and then in persevering through their first year. However, students like Vang — who seemingly sail through that initial year, but then come up against a barrier that threatens to derail them when they’re on the home stretch — are garnering more attention as well.
In an effort to support students who have completed at least three quarters of their program requirements but are at risk of dropping out, two Minnesota postsecondary institutions — Saint Paul College and Concordia University, in St. Paul — have received grant funding to implement added supports for these “near completers,” with a focus on low-income students and students of color in programs that feed into high-demand careers.