By Lindsey Ziliak
Andrea Vaughn’s family had prodded her for years to finish the college degree she started in 1998.
Vaughn stopped one class short of her degree in 2009 because she was afraid of the public speaking class she needed to take.
In December, Vaughn, from Anderson, finally earned the degree, thanks to a new scholarship program aimed at students like her who left school just a few credits short of graduation.
“I will be glad to have my degree,” she said. “Now my family can quit asking me when I’m going to finish it. If I knew back when I was younger what I know now, I would not have gone this route.”
Vaughn was the first student to accept a $500 scholarship from the “Complete IU Kokomo” program, which is available to former IU students from any campus who had at least 90 credits and a 3.0 grade point average before leaving school.
The program is funded with a $30,000 grant from Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization that works with states to increase college completion. According to the Lumina Foundation, Indiana ranks 40th in the country in college degree attainment.
The campus also is using the grant funding for degree mapping programs and three-year degree programs in education and business.
Candy Thompson, director of general studies and distance education, said those eligible for the scholarship are good students who had to stop work on their degree for a variety of reasons.
“They’re all so close to graduation, and they’re all good students,” Thompson said. “These are the students you want to come back to campus. They’ve come such a long way. We want to encourage them to complete their degrees.”
She hopes to have more returning students enrolled for the spring semester.
Thompson reviewed five years of records to identify potential returning students and then prepared individual letters and potential class schedules, nearly always classes offered in the evening, through the accelerated program or online. These often appeal more to older students than the idea of coming back to campus, she said.
“Some of them could finish a degree in one semester,” she said. “I think if I hadn’t finished and was so close, the scholarship incentive would be very tempting.”
Vaughn said the scholarship gave her the push she needed to finish her degree, which she started at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“I thought, ‘Well, I have no choice. It would be really stupid to turn this down. One class, $500 toward the tuition, I would be ridiculous not to do it,’” Vaughn said. “It was too good a deal.”
She chose an eight-week professional communications class that met one evening per week. She home schools her children, ages 5 and 2, so an evening class fit in her schedule, she said.
“Speaking in front of the class is still hard, but I have my eye on the prize,” she said at the end of the year. “Every class is one step closer to graduating.”