TitleReturn-to-Learn Program Request Date2012-12-07
DepartmentOffice of Student Success
RequestorCarina Beck Phone406-994-43533
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Admissions Registrars Career & Internship Services Financial Aid Office of Financial Education Other Academic Departments
Proposed Dates Start: March 1 2013 End: June 30 2015
There is a tremendous opportunity to bolster MSU graduation rates and create a more diverse student-body by on-boarding former and non-traditional students with a Return-to-Learn program housed in the Office of Student Success. According to the Lumina Foundation, over 134,000 working aged Montanans indicate they have some college but no degree. Further, 14,840 students have left MSU since 2002 without earning a degree. These statistics create a compelling reason to develop a program supporting student success for a unique population from “pre-entry” to graduation through a grassed-roots-effort encouraging Montanans to "Return-to-Learn."
This program meets at least two objectives in the strategic plan, first by developing a program supporting the goal to increase our graduation rates by targeting former students and inviting them to “Return-to-Learn” (Objective L.2 Increase Graduation Rates). Further, the proposal addresses Objective A.2 – Diversify the student body by specially targeting non-traditional students.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries 49950  102897  105983         
Benefits 14755  29511  29511         
Materials & Supplies 4389  477  477         
Travel 2000  4000  4000         
Contracted Services              
Other Operations 15000  25000  25000         
TOTAL 86094  161885  164971     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.


  • Program Manager - $38,000 Salary (benefits $12,160)
  • Success Advisor Coordinator - $33,000 (benefits $10,560)
  • 3 Part-Time Success Advisors $18,900 ($3,591)
  •             Salary: $14/hr x 15 hrs/wk x 2 staff x 45 weeks:
  • Salaries were increased by 3% for FY 14 and FY 15

Share of Web Developer/Programmer

  • Salary:  .25 FTE  X $40,000 = $10,000
  • Share of benefits $3,200
  • Salary was increased by 3% for FY 14 and FY 15


  • Laptop: $1199 x 3= $3597
  • Telephone/Voicemail: $13.25 x 3 staff X 12 months = $477
  • IP Address & Email: $105 x 4 = $315
  • Note computers and IP & email costs are only applicable for FY 13


Other Operations

  • Printing/Marketing/Advertising     $10,000
  • Mailing                                        $10,000
  • General Operations                       $  5,000
  • Travel                                          $  4,000
  • Office of Student Success will absorb the of additional staffing support, administrative support, student staff and other incidentals not included in above estimate.
  • Desks and additional furniture will be secured as needed from MSU Property Supply.


Describe the Proposal

College access and completion are important considerations in the knowledge economy.  The goal established by the Department of Education and the Lumina Foundation (whose mission is to expand access and success in education beyond high school, particularly among adults, first-generation college going students, low-income students and students of color) is to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

This goal is a national priority[1] because:

  • Higher education attainment rates among adults, first-generation college-going students, low-income students and students of color are significantly lower than those of other students. This gap has endured for decades and is now widening. This attainment gap is alarming given the country’s demographic trends.

Montana State University can and should participate in this goal and expected outcomes on behalf of the citizens of the state of Montana by focusing its efforts on establishing a comprehensive Return-to-Learn Program supporting:

  1. Former students of MSU who have not graduated with a degree
  2. Non-traditional students who are seeking a university degree

There is a tremendous opportunity to bolster MSU graduation rates and create a more diverse student-body by on-boarding non-traditional students.  For instance, since 2002, 14,840 individuals have left MSU and did not graduate from another institution.  We consider these former students to be “Return-to-Learn eligible” and a prime target for a special program that invites and supports former students with re-enrollment, learning strategies, financial education, tutoring, career coaching and other efforts to retain through graduation.  New non-traditional students would also be eligible for this effort.    


The Lumina Foundation also provides insight on the opportunity to provide educational opportunities for non-traditional students.  According to their most recent publication (2011), 26.3% of the 512,000 working aged adults in Montana (134,656 individuals) indicate they have “some college” but no degree.  These statistics, combined with the urgency of the Lumnia Foundation and the Department of Education create an opportunity to develop a program to support non-traditional aged students to be successful at Montana State University.

Re-enrollment and completion would benefit the student since many have left this or another institution with debt (and no degree).  Re-enrollment and completion would also benefit the institution, since a significant number could be included in our graduation outcomes report.   In addition, this effort is consistent with the Land-grant mission and the goals of the strategic plan for MSU, the Lumina Foundation and the Department of Education.

The purpose of the Return-to-Learn program is not to replace the admissions function, but rather have an entity responsible for “mentoring” students at the point of “pre-entry” throughout their academic career who are at higher risk for not completing their degree for the following reasons:

  1. The potential student has already left the institution (often due to poor grades or financial concerns)
  2. The potential student is of non-traditional age or background. Simply because of those “variables” the student is more likely to be at risk.


While housed in the Office of Student Success, this program would work in concert with the Admissions office to “on-board” new students and the Registrar’s Office to “re-enroll” former students to the university.  Further, for the program to be successful, Return to Learn staff would work collaborative with academic departments and administrative offices to trouble shoot issues related to financial aid, student account holds, and other issues that can be challenging for students as they attempt to enter the university either as a new non-traditional student or re-entering MSU student.


Compelling Data for Former MSU Students

While it is difficult to analyze data for the Montana population at large, we were able to conduct analysis on former MSU students (2002-2012) who did not graduate from this or another institution.  This data is instructive for developing program constructs.

 From Fall 2002-Fall 2012 there were a total of 28,061 degree seeking undergraduate students who started a degree at Montana State University, but did not complete an undergraduate degree from Montana State University. 

  • 14,840 of these students are eligible for Return to Learn (53%)

Residency Classification (out of 14,840)

  • 10,127 students were in-state their final semester at MSU (68%)
  • 4,502 students were out-of-state their final semester at MSU (30%)

Gender (out of 14,832)

  • 6,138 students are female (41%)
  • 8,694 students are male (59%)

Holds (out of 14,840)

  • 9,421 students did not have a hold their final semester at MSU (63%)
  • 5,419 students did have a hold their final semester at MSU (37%)

Financial Eligibility (out of 14,715)

  • 6,045 students are not eligible for financial aid (41%)
  • 8,670 students are eligible for financial aid (59%)

Of the students not eligible for financial aid (out of 6,045)

  • 1,552 students have a cumulative GPA of at least a 2.0 (26%)
  • 4,493 students have a cumulative GPA less than a 2.0 (74%)

Major constructs of the program include:

  1. Development of a comprehensive database to identify and track potential applicants and current students.
  2. Development of a comprehensive marketing plan (web, mail, email, phone, social media, community presence, etc.) to entice consideration for the program.
  3. Development of a campus out-reach effort to share “best practices” for recruiting/re-enrolling, retaining and graduating non-traditional students for staff and faculty.
  4. Development of a program to better capture and support students who are already planning to return to MSU by independently completing an “intent to register form”.
  5. Development of appropriate IT resources to properly support program.
  6. Development of specific services to support non-traditional student enrollment (on campus and through distance methods)
    1. Financial aid eligibility and “financial hold” issues
    2. Financial education issues
    3. Residency and geographic issues in Montana
    4. Distance education/extended university issues
    5. Academic advising and academic reinstatement issues
    6. Learning strategies issues
    7. Disability accommodation issues
    8. Social support issues
    9. Career development issues
  7. Coordinated efforts with the MSU Foundation to develop grants and scholarship opportunities.
  8. Development of a grass roots effort, coordinating with key-strategic partners throughout the state (Community Colleges, Non-profits, Tribal Colleges, Employers, Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundations, Employers, Community Economic Develop “Engines”, etc.) to nominate or sponsor 1 or more potential returning students to support their choice to “Return-to-Learn.”
  9. Study of other national “best practices” for supporting non-traditional student enrollment.

10. Development of a team within the Office of Student Success and the campus community to support the unique needs for non-traditional student success.

11. Development of methods for measuring efficacy of the program.


[1] Lumnia Foundation -

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

The program has the potential for significant impact at the individual, family, institution, employer, community and state level, especially when considering 134,000 Montanan’s would be eligible (realizing a much smaller percentage would likely participate). Clearly this is good for the institution as MSU will have an opportunity to “do the right thing” while also improving our graduation rates (based upon the 14,840 who have attended but have not earned a degree).  More importantly however, outcomes from this proposal have the capability of transforming the lives of individuals and families, opportunities for communities and employers and lead to improved state statistics for individuals with a bachelors’ degree or greater.

Implementation Plan
  • March 1                            Hire staff
  • March 13                         Develop prospect list in collaboration with key strategic partners (Gallatin College, Extended University)
  • March 15                         Coordinate with Admissions Staff to share all Non-Traditional student applications
  • March 25                         Develop a Non-Traditional/Return to Learn Communication Plan
  • April 1                              Begin Student “At-Risk” Data Mining Project
  • April 15                            Begin developing Return to Learn website (Wall of Encouragement, Skills and Strategies)
  • May 1                               Promote Return to Learn Scholarship program (essay, GPA, other?)
  • May 31                             MSU Branded Return to Learn Marketing Materials, Web Page, On-line Resources launched
  • June 1                               Develop community “grass roots campaign”
  • July 1                                Return to Learn Scholarship Application Open
  • July 2                                Promote Student Success Advising and free Career Coaching to potential returning students and those we know are already returning                                   
  • July 8                                Coordinate and partner with Extended University, Admissions, Registrar, and other key campus partners to develop targeted “pre-entry” marketing materials
  • July 15                              2nd round of programmatic support materials published
  • July 16                              Begin “Pre-Entry” “Communication Plan” focusing on:
    •  Targeted-At-Risk Students (from data-mining project):
      • Low attempted credit to completion rate progress ratio
      • Financial Aid Academic Progress Warning
      • Pell Eligible
      • First Generation
      • Previously Suspended
      • Students enrolled in Majors with Lower Starting Salaries and High Debt
    • Others to target:
      • MSU employees who could finish degree
      • Already returning students
      • Potential online students
      • Those close to completing degree requirements 
  • August 1                           Award scholarship
  • September 3                    Return to Learn Clients Begin Meeting with Student Success Advisors
  • September 9                    Send Welcome Back letter to congratulate and encourage retuning students
  • September 11                 Welcome Back event (orientation, re-oreintation) to encourage students and educate them on MSU and their services
  • September 23                 Host work shops for returning students to acquaint them with MSU technology (Tech 101)
  • September 30                 Begin Student Focus Groups of current Non-Traditional Students (qualitative data collection)
  • October 9 -10                  Travel with Rockin’ the Rez
  • October 21                       Promotional materials sent for spring recruitment
  • October 25                       Analysis of Student Focus Groups and Survey complete
  • November 11                  Return to Learn Open House for potential Spring Students
  • November 15                  Travel with Rockin’ the Rez
  • November 18                  Spring Book Purchase Scholarship Announced
  • December 13                   Spring Book Purchase Scholarship Winners Announced
  • December 14                   Commencement Celebration Party Held (Post Commencement)
  • January 1                         Promote College Goal/financial support
  • January 6                         Money from Fall Book Scholarship Distributed
  • January 9                         Launch Community Grass Roots Campaign
  • February 10 - 19            Attend Montana Tribal College Fair Circuit with MSU Admissions Minority Admissions Representative
  • March TBD                       Promote and Attend College Goal Montana Events
  • April 15                            Promote Student Loan Repayment 101 Program
  • April 22                            Promote Virtual Summer Job Fair on
  • April 24-25                      Assessment of predictive and descriptive statistics for 11 major objectives of the program (including overview of additional Strategic Plan Objectives)
  • May 17                             Revise and prepare materials for Summer Orientation and fall semester outreach
  • May 3                               Commencement Celebration Party Held (Post Commencement)
  • May 9                               Update website with pictures and quotes from graduates                              
  • June 3                               Conduct survey with key campus and third party partners to learn impressions and suggested improvements for program
  • June 10                            Conduct survey with student clients to learn impressions and suggested improvements
  • June 17                            Write Final Report for President/Vice-President for Admin & Finance
  • June 28                            Submit report


Assessment Plan

Assessment will be conducted using the following methods:

  1. An annual, semester, and weekly review of data tracking:
    1. Number of student “prospects”
    2. Number of student “prospect meetings”
    3. Number of students “enrolled”
    4. Number of students “retained”
    5. Number of students “graduated”
    6. Number of students registered for tutoring
    7. Number of students actively seeing a Success Advisor
    8. Number of students participating in Learning Strategies program
    9. Number of students participating in ChampChange events.
    10. Number of students receiving Financial Education
    11. Number of students in on-line Liberal Studies Program
    12. Number of community partners
    13. Number/amount of scholarships and/or grants
  1. Strategic Goal Metrics:
    1. Metric L.2.1: By 2019, the bachelor’s graduation rate will increase from 51 percent to 65 percent as measured by the six-year graduation rate.
    2. Metric L.2.4: By 2019, the first time, full time freshmen fall-to-fall retention rate will increase from 74 percent to 82 percent.
    3. Metric L.3.1: By 2019, the percent of graduates employed full time in their filed or in positions of their choosing will increase from an average of 62 percent to 70 percent. 
    4. Metric L.3.2: By 2019, the percent of graduates pursuing an advanced degree will increase from an average of 21 percent to 25 percent.
    5. Metric E.1.1: By 2013, MSU will have a campus-wide coordinating infrastructure to support and advance engagement, outreach and service.
    6. Metric A.1.1: By 2019, the number of Montana Undergraduate students enrolled will surpass 9,900 (a 15 percent increase).
    7. Metric A.1.6: By 2019, the percentage of need met through scholarships and grants for students who were awarded any need based aid will increase from 74 percent to 80 percent.
    8. Metric A.1.7: By 2019, the total student population will increase 15 percent to 16,000.
    9. Metric A.2.1: By 2019, the number of Native American students enrolled will increase to 800 (a 45 percent increase).
    10. Metric A.2.2: By 2019, the number of other under-represented minority students enrolled will increase to 950 (a 40 percent increase).
    11. Metric A.2.4: By 2019, the number of nontraditional students enrolled in undergraduate and Gallatin College programs will increase to 3,200 (a 20 percent increase).
If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

If results from above are not satisfactory the program should either be drastically redesigned or eliminated.



Dean/Director: Carina Beck (
Executive/VP: James Rimpau (