School suspended – RED. Relevant. Significant. Denver | Vette Leader

Carrie Berglund started college in 1989, but family commitments caused her to drop out a semester before graduation.

After 30 years on the road as an addict, Damien Carroll, 62, found recovery and hope at Las Animas and Otero Junior College, but then Covid-19 struck and interrupted his schooling.

Adel Ishnenah graduated high school in 2017 and went straight to college, but then quit when he realized he didn’t know what degree he wanted to pursue.

And Heidi Keryan started college in 2009 as a young single mom but couldn’t finish it without a strong support system.

These four students from different walks of life — and dozens more — are getting a second chance at college, thanks in part to Metropolitan State University of Denver’s newly funded “Finish What You Started” scholarship program. The program provides recipients with personal, professional, academic, and financial support to complete their studies.

“We’ve seen so many students so close to graduation, so this program really caters to people who have graduation within reach,” said Tana Ridgeway, navigator for reintegration at MSU Denver and the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Institution who oversees Finish What You Started.

RELATED: Scholarships and resources are helping adult learners finish what they started

According to the US Department of Education, the national four-year graduation rate from public colleges and universities is 33.3%, suggesting that a large percentage of students are struggling to graduate in four years — or at all.

“We want these students to see themselves in the future they envisioned when they started school,” Ridgeway said. “We’re about more than just the academic credits required for a degree: financial literacy, resume writing and other business skills are all part of the program.”

Students also have a navigator (or mentor) throughout the program and receive a $1,000 financial aid the first semester they re-enroll. They then receive $500 each subsequent semester until their final semester, when they receive another $1,000. Additional emergency funds and community resources are available to help recipients graduate.

MSU-Denver graduate student Adel Ishnenah majored in aerospace when he started college in 2017, but has since returned to cybersecurity because of the potential he sees in the field. Photo by Amanda Schwengel

Ishnenah, who recently started his first year in the program, found that mentors were critical to his success. “It really helped emotionally to have a mentor,” he said. “Mine told me it took him 10 years to get his bachelor’s degree. He supports me in completing my studies and it just makes a difference when someone has my back. I know I can reach out if I need help and he sends me networking opportunities.”

Ishnenah studied aerospace when he started college in 2017 but has since switched to cybersecurity. He sees a lot of potential in this area and looks forward to repaying what he says is the kindness he has received. “I hope we see this program at other universities as well,” he said. “This program is a huge investment and with a better educated workforce and more employment opportunities, we all win.”

Finish What You Started serves 89 students, and administrators hope to add 450 more this fall. “In total, we have funding for 900 students, and they need to graduate by spring 2026 when the scholarship funds run out,” Ridgeway said.

Scholars must be Colorado residents, have no other bachelor’s degree, have at least 30 credits toward a degree, and have been out of school for at least two consecutive semesters prior to re-enrollment.

RELATED: State stimulus program to help Coloradans get back to school

You are eligible for the Finish What You Started program if you:

• Are a Colorado resident or classified as a resident for study purposes (ASSET students are eligible).

• Have completed 30 or more credit hours (including transferable credit hours) towards the degree.

• You have not earned a degree (including associate’s and bachelor’s degrees).

• Being absent from the university for at least two semesters (including the summer semester) immediately before re-enrolment.

• Have experienced financial difficulties (including but not limited to rising housing or food costs, housing insecurity, reduction in wages or hours) due to the pandemic.

Find out more and apply.

Keryan is a junior hoping to graduate with an accounting degree in fall 2023 or spring 2024.

“I have a support system now that I didn’t have in 2009,” she said. “I am very supportive of my husband and four children and I work in the financial analysis and risk modeling staff. I love that my degree fills some of the knowledge gaps I had.”

Berglund is also grateful for a strong family support system.

“My kids honestly love it, and my 25-year-old daughter has really pushed me,” she said. “I’ve always been a good student but was afraid to come back my age – for fear I might be cognitively underperforming, which wasn’t the case. I’m hyper focused and I get really good grades.”

Berglund plans to graduate from MSU Denver after completing her bachelor’s degree.

“That maturity and that drive has made a huge difference,” she said.

Carroll had been studying at Otero Junior College to become an X-ray technician when Covid-19 slowed him down. He ended up completing an addiction recovery program at Las Animas and said he made the decision to go back to school after MSU Denver contacted him about participating in the Finish What You Started program.

He is now studying under the tutelage of Monique Left Hand Bull in MSU Denver’s Department of Human Services and Counseling to become a substance abuse counselor.

“I had so many people behind me and my success,” Carroll said. “I’m ready for this next chapter and I know I can share my mistakes and experiences to help others in the same situation. I feel blessed to have the chance.”

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