By the end of last spring, Jessica Van der Linden was behind on credit hours -- just two courses shy of being a junior as her sophomore year at the University of Colorado Boulder came to a close -- because she had taken family leave during the school year.
Over the summer, she was able to take those two classes using grant money from a program called CU Achieve. She’s now on schedule academically, heading into the fall as a junior and on track to graduate as planned in the spring of 2016.
The six-year graduation rate nationally is 57 percent for public universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Last fall, Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano announced that the university has set a target of moving the six-year graduation rate from 68 percent to 80 percent by year 2020, and CU Achieve is one program that will contribute to this initiative.
As part of CU Achieve, CU-Boulder officials identified and contacted 300 students who were eligible to apply for the program this summer, 94 of whom participated, receiving $139,122 in total funding. The program was piloted in 2013 only for College of Arts and Sciences students and expanded this year to include students across campus.
CU-Boulder’s Office of Financial Aid noticed Van der Linden’s situation and contacted her last spring to tell her she was eligible to apply for CU Achieve, which awards sophomores who’ve fallen behind $1,000 to $2,000 each for summer-school courses so they can catch up on credit hours and ultimately graduate on time.
“When students graduate in six years or less, it saves them and their families money and helps our next generation of business and government leaders, scientists, teachers and artists into the workforce sooner, contributing to the economy,” DiStefano said. “We want to do everything we can to maximize students’ returns on their investment while lowering their education costs.”
Before she learned of the CU Achieve opportunity, Van der Linden says she was frustrated. She didn’t want to take out loans for summer classes. She also couldn’t register for junior-level courses while she was technically still a sophomore.
“It was such a relief when I received the email about CU Achieve,” said Van der Linden. “I’m very thankful for the program and to be heading into upper-division courses with my peers this fall, right where I should be.”
“Many students don’t have enough financial aid left over to attend summer session,” said Ofelia Morales, an associate director in CU-Boulder’s Office of Financial Aid. “So we started the program to find out if we could help students progress to the junior level by offering them extra funding to take summer classes.
“We are hopeful that this funding will help students stay on track and graduate on time,” she said.
Eligible students are those who do not have enough credit after the spring semester of their sophomore year to become juniors, and who show significant financial need.
With her CU Achieve grant, Van der Linden, a studio arts major and photographer with her own portraiture business, took an intensive three-week course in integrative physiology on motor dynamics, studying the process of movement. She also took a physics course during Session A, held in early June through early July, called Light and Color for Non-Scientists.
Coming up to speed allowed her to register for junior-level courses like the Writing for the Visual Arts class that will kick off her fall semester.
“It’s an upper-division course that will help me with writing artist statements, proposals, descriptions that tie in with audiences and such,” said Van der Linden.
It might also help her move toward her dream career of traveling the world as a photographer for a magazine or creative agency -- sooner rather than later.
“When students graduate in six years or less, it saves them and their families money and helps our next generation of business and government leaders, scientists, teachers and artists into the workforce sooner, contributing to the economy,” Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said. “We want to do everything we can to maximize students’ returns on their investment while lowering their education costs.”