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. The Office of the Bursar monitored students who received a Finish Line award and reached out to those who appeared to be in danger of falling behind on payments. Academic advisors ensured that students registered only for courses that fulfilled their degree requirements and supported students to ensure that they achieved satisfactory academic progress. Students in need of academic support were referred to a 24/7 online tutoring service. The pilot increased persistence and graduation rates and has led to additional funding from CUNY and other funders.