Crossing the ‘Finish Line’

A Mizzou program helps former students complete their degrees. For some, it means receiving a diploma they didn’t know they’d earned.

a tiger statue with a graduation cap on

April 13, 2021
Contact: Kenny Gerling,

Since leaving the University of Missouri in 2015, Maudie Nisbet has put to work what she learned at the Trulaske College of Business. She said her entrepreneurial pursuits include various unusual jobs, including collaborating with a friend to launch a business selling drinks (via a dinghy) in Florida.

Despite an eventful life across several states, there was something that nagged at Nisbet: She was still one internship away from receiving her degree.

“I definitely noticed that my mindset was still set to business,” Nisbet said. “It made me always think about going back and finishing my degree.”

In November 2020, Nisbet was contacted by representatives from the College of Business: COVID-19 precautions meant that her missing in-person internship could now be completed virtually. Would she be interested in reenrolling?

Nisbet jumped at the opportunity. “This is exactly what I needed,” she said.

Ongoing support

Nisbet was identified through Finish Line, a program piloted in fall 2020 that reaches out to recent Mizzou students who have, among other qualifiers, completed more than 100 credit hours and have at least a 2.0 GPA. After making contact, MU staff work with students to identify barriers to completion and make appropriate accommodations.

Rachael Orr, project specialist for the Office of Undergraduate Studies, said the program aligns with many of the university’s strategic goals to increase the overall number of degrees and improve graduation rates, but — just as important — it provides a personalized opportunity for former students to return.

I’ve been with MU more than 15 years, and this is one of the projects that I’ve enjoyed the most,” Orr said. “We get to help students who are so close and overcome barriers where they’ve been stuck before. And the flipside is we identify those barriers and make sure other students don’t run into them.”

Orr said that as of Jan. 8, 147 former students were identified and contacted through the Office of Undergraduate Studies and by advisors in individual academic units. Of those who qualified, 40 responded and 21 were ultimately readmitted, allowing them to complete their degree.

Stephanie Toigo, a senior academic advisor for the College of Business, said that virtual opportunities, changes in requirements and, in some cases, career experience helped Tigers earn their degrees — sometimes decades after last stepping foot on campus.

“Students have said that they felt really special that — after however many years — someone took the time to reach out and give the opportunity to do this,” Toigo said.

A big surprise

Some contacted students discovered that they had retroactively earned a degree with no additional coursework required.

Erik Elsenrath is a former Mizzou student who now runs a successful interactive marketing company in Cleveland. Elsenrath recently got a call from Carlynn Trout, an advisor for the College of Arts and Science (A&S) who was working on the Finish Line list supplied by Orr. Trout had reviewed his transcript and discovered he had finished the requirements for an interdisciplinary studies degree.

“They took care of everything,” Elsenrath said. “I appreciate their kindness in reaching out and saying, ‘You qualify for this and would you like to take advantage of the opportunity?’”

Trout said Finish Line is just the latest initiative to make sure Tigers receive support from Mizzou, even after they’ve left campus. “We’ve always done this sort of work in A&S whenever possible,” Trout said. “When we are able to contact a student — and that’s sometimes no small feat — the reaction from most of them is almost always, ‘Oh that’s wonderful.’”

Elsenrath said his interdisciplinary studies degree, though unexpected, was easy to finalize and receive. “Just for them to reach out — they didn’t have to do that. But they took time out of their day to look into my situation,” he said.

The next step

Nisbet is now in a virtual internship from her home in California and is on-track to graduate in May with a degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis. She said that, though she still enjoys the freedom her lifestyle affords, she’s excited to see what opportunities a degree will open up.

“I’ve been able to remember that there was a reason I was interested in business school,” Nisbet said. “Finishing my degree takes a small weight off my shoulders that I didn’t realize was there.”

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