UTEP snags $3M Grant from U.S. Department of Education; Will help re-enroll ‘stop-outs’

El Paso News

Photo courtesy UTEP

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Thanks to a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, officials with UTEP will now work to help students struggling to complete their degree.

University officials say the multi-pronged effort is focused on re-engaging and re-enrolling students who have not graduated and have paused enrollment for one semester or more, also known as stop-outs.

“UTEP’s unique student population lives complex lives that can sometimes interfere with their studies…This grant will allow the University to better understand the barriers some students face to successful completion of their degrees, and to address those issues on a long-term basis.”

John Wiebe, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, and the grant’s principal investigator

University officials share that the sources of those barriers are diverse, and many of these issues have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Wiebe said.

They include financial complications such as the loss of employment for the student or a member of their household, the loss of financial aid, unexpected medical expenses and others. These events can lead to situations in which students drop out of school to work.

To address these issues, UTEP is implementing a multi-phased plan that is built on coordination and collaboration across multiple divisions of the University.

Some of these efforts are already underway, such as a campaign executed jointly by the divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to identify and engage with students who have stopped out. In the initiative’s first stage, a team of student liaisons contacts students by phone, text message, email and social media.

Once that team identifies students who have issues that the University can address, they refer those students to the appropriate services and then pass them on to the Student Success Helpdesk, where they are provided with tailored advising to support them through degree completion.

Also underway is an update to the class registration system that will allow students to play a more active role in their own registration and the management of their degree plans, as well as a complementary project that aims to partner with faculty to streamline the University’s degree programs to make them more accessible to students.

A variety of other initiatives being developed will soon add to these efforts. Some of these projects are directly aimed at stop-outs, while others are designed to prevent current students from falling into that category. These include an expansion of the University’s financial support services with the aim of increasing financial literacy and awareness of existing resources, both on and off campus, among current students.

UTEP’s Division of Information Resources is coordinating improvements to student information systems and collaborating on the adoption of a new app that will allow the University to improve its communication with students on issues such as registration, advising, graduation and other topics that can improve students’ chances of making progress toward their degrees.

Administrators in the Provost’s Office will also look to leverage the resources and expertise of the Extended University, UTEP’s hub for online and other nontraditional academic programs, professional training and education. This is an effort to improve access by strategically adding online courses so that students who can’t physically be on campus can progress academically in that way.

The grant from the Department of Education is also supporting the development of two projects related to student employment.

Regarding the on-campus student employment program, officials from Student Affairs and Academic Affairs are planning a transformation that will see the program shift to an internship model that imparts skills aligned with industry needs.

The University is also in the planning stages of an effort to reach out to community partners to provide paid internships with off-campus entities for students who would otherwise need to work off campus to support themselves and their families.

Underscoring the grant’s overarching theme of cooperation across institutional divisions, the University’s Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research and Planning will track and evaluate the effectiveness of the different initiatives deployed throughout the life of the grant.

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