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Scholarships lure dropouts back to campus

How eager are colleges and universities to raise graduation rates? It depends.

One school clearly going all out is the University of New Mexico, which sends out letters offering scholarships to former students who dropped out - if they will come back and complete the courses they need to graduate.

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Over the past two years, the university's Graduation Project has culled through lists of dropouts to identify 1,700 students who quit just shy of graduation - but who also had at least a 2.0 grade-point average.

If the students had the GPA and at least three-quarters of the 128 credits required to graduate, they received a letter offering them a credit of $400 per semester - half the cost of tuition - to come back and complete their course work. So far, 740 students have jumped at the offer - and 322 have graduated since the program began in late 1996.

"These were good students on average who just ran up against circumstances that pulled them out of degree completion," says David Stuart, associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. "We offered to override the enrollment caps and put them in classes that were closed out if they needed them to graduate."

Adam Giron, a fairgrounds manager, dropped out in 1994 but took the school's offer and reenrolled. He expects to graduate around Christmas.

Likewise, Rosa Maria Gurule, who dropped out and has since had children, took the offer and graduated in 1998. The offer has special relevance to her and other Hispanic students, Mr. Stuart says.

Nearly one-quarter of the school's graduates are Hispanic, Stuart says, in a state where the per capita income is nearly the bottom in the nation.

Nationally, millions of young Hispanics are qualified for college but never attend, reports a study by the Educational Testing Service.

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Today the University of New Mexico's graduation rate is about 38 percent at the end of five years - which Stuart blames on the low per capita income in the state. That means many of the school's students must quit school to earn money if, for instance, the family earner falls ill.

"A lot of these kids would leave school if their dad was hurt on the job and the family needed to replace his wages," Stuart says. "We asked these students which things we did helped them most. Most of them said, 'You contacted me, you cared.' "

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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