New $2.1 million grant from Dept of Education will help “stop-out” students return & succeed

Cincinnati State has received a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) that will provide $2.1 million for a 5-year project (about $430,000 per year) aimed at improving student completion, especially by bringing students who have “stopped out” back to the College and giving them resources needed to succeed.

  • A primary focus for many grant activities will be outreach and support for adult students (age 24+) who have made significant progress toward degree completion before leaving the College.
  • Student workers will receive training so they can effectively reach out to the stopped-out students and assist them in seeking support.
  • A designated Reconnection Advisor will help the stopped-out students address barriers that led to leaving college, and the project team will provide these students with resources and encouragement to return and successfully complete their studies.

The grant, which is part of the DOE “Strengthening Institutions Program,” also is intended to enhance Cincinnati State’s ability to use data in support of retention efforts, build a culture of retention and stop-out prevention among faculty and staff, and launch ongoing funding for innovative faculty and staff-led pilot projects aimed at improving retention and student success.

Geoff Woolf, Dean of Humanities & Sciences, will serve as the Project Director. Others who contributed to the successful grant proposal were Richard Curtis (College Grant Writer and Media Liaison) and faculty members Dr. Heather Hatchett (Psychology), and Nora Beckmann (Math).

Geoff said, “Currently, the College is struggling with decreases in the number of students returning semester-to-semester. Retention has been slipping since the pandemic.”

“While we know how many students are leaving, we have very little information on why they’re leaving and where they’re going,” Geoff added. “This project is intended to capture that information and provide leadership in actionable strategies we can use to prevent more stop-outs and effectively serve adult students.”

“With the oncoming ‘demographic cliff’ in reduced numbers of traditional-age students, learning how to better serve adult students and help them graduate is the secret to our future sustainability,” Geoff said.

Geoff said a pilot for the grant was a Cincinnati State program offered in Spring and Summer of 2021 that used peer-to-peer outreach to bring stopped-out students back to the College.

“We learned through the pilot project that the students who left didn’t feel personally connected to the College, and traditional College marketing and advertising didn’t motivate them to return,” Geoff said. “But when other students reached out, and then the College provided a reconnection advisor to help, students did come back to continue their education.”

The new project will be given a distinctive name before student outreach and services begin in Spring Semester 2024, with a goal of bringing stopped-out students back to campus for Fall 2024 classes.

Dean Woolf said activity has already started that will lead to filling several new grant-funded positions for the project. They include:

  • Project Manager (full-time) – coordinates all grant activities.
  • Data Manager (full-time) – ensures that project activities are comprehensively documented and tracked, and conducts data mining and analysis to help guide project strategies.
  • Reconnection Advisor (29 hrs/week) – provides direct services to help students who are returning after stopping out.
  • Team Leader (full-time) – oversees student workers and students returning to the College as a result of project outreach.
  • Student Workers – responsible for outreach to stopped-out students. Ideally, the student team will include leaders of student organizations from each academic division. Students who wish to may earn co-op credit for their outreach work.

In addition, an Advisory Board of faculty and staff members will be involved with implementation of grant activities. Dr. Heather Hatchett will provide leadership for the Advisory Board.

Geoff said the grant funds will support other activities that include:

  • Providing professional development tools and training opportunities to help faculty and staff with student retention efforts.
  • Providing stipends for faculty and staff to attend retention training.
  • Providing funding for faculty and staff “mini-grants” to implement new projects that improve student retention and success.