CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS) serves nearly 4,000 degree-seeking students and has one of the most successful online degree programs nationally. Students attending this and other CUNY schools, however, all too often drop out after earning substantial credits towards graduation because of small outstanding tuition balances.
Building on the work of a small pilot that had shown promise in reducing the dropout rate for low-income college students, we underwrote a wider effort to increase college graduation rates for CUNY SPS students with outstanding tuition balances of between $100 and $2,000. CUNY SPS developed a multi-faceted communications plan to advertise the opportunity, called “Finish Line,” to students and to award the grants. Students must complete multiple steps before CUNY will forgive the debt. The Office of the Bursar monitors students who receive a Finish Line award and reaches out to those who appear to be in danger of falling behind on payments. Academic advisors ensure that students register only for courses that fulfill their degree requirements and they support their students to ensure that they achieve satisfactory academic progress. Students in need of academic support are referred to a 24/7 online tutoring service.