Quesi Lewis had only five classes to go. The 26-year-old had already walked in Rider’s Commencement ceremony in spring 2007 and anticipated finishing up his course requirements that summer.

“It was pretty tough being so close to getting that degree and having to leave because of financial and personal reasons,” said Lewis, whose difficulty stemmed from the tuition balance he owed of $6,000. “I didn’t have the means to pay off the balance and I needed to in order to reregister for classes.”

Two years later, Lewis decided to find out how he could complete his undergraduate degree requirements. That’s when Boris Vilic, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, told Lewis about Return to Learn for Adults, a new state-funded program, that could allow him to resume his studies without suffering substantial financial consequences. Because of the program, Rider forgave $1,500 of his balance and awarded Lewis a $100 textbook voucher. He also qualified for financial aid.

“I went from owing almost $7,000 to owing $176,” said Lewis, who re-enrolled last fall and will officially graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Sciences in Computer Information Systems. “Without this program I would not be in school right now.  I definitely think it’s a great opportunity.”

After a highly competitive grant process with 21 institutions submitting proposals, Rider University was one of four New Jersey institutions selected to receive funds from the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education’s Disengaged Adults Returning to College (DARC) Grant. The state grant is funded by the federal government and was designed to encourage more adults, ages 20 and older, to finish their degrees.

In fact, Rider was awarded $75,000 for the first phase of the potentially two-year grant cycle. The other institutions included Mercer County Community College, Passaic County Community College and William Paterson University.

“I did not think we would get the grant. We all knew the competition would be fierce,” Vilic said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

Michelle Johnson, director of the New Jersey GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) State Project for the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education and oversaw the coordination of the DARC Grant, said there were two other grants recently funded by the federal government’s College Access Challenge Grant Program.

The other programs include dual enrollment opportunities for high school students taking college courses for credit, and FAFSA assistance for underrepresented high school students.

Johnson said Rider’s Return to Learn program ranked high in the proposal process because the reviewers found that the program had, among other things, a detailed plan of action, was committed to working across the departments, had one unified message throughout its print and online marketing and offered solutions for students who wished to continue their studies at another institution.

Since its inception in the fall of 2009, Return to Learn has provided Lewis and more than 30 individuals like him, who have postponed their Rider education, a flexible and affordable way to successfully complete their associate or bachelor’s degrees. Phase one of the new program offers a number of supportive resources in order to help individuals to successfully earn their degrees, including:

  • A “clean start” by erasing part or all of prior balance due to Rider
  • Personalized advising throughout a student’s studies
  • Additional University-funded scholarship assistance
  • Extracurricular workshops to help with career planning, securing external scholarships or applying to graduate school
  • Bookstore vouchers to help with textbook purchases
  • Flexible courses that meet online or every other weeknight or weekend.

Additionally, students who sign up for the program might have earned enough academic credits to receive their associate degree from Rider. The College of Continuing Studies has also used the grant money to create an interactive Web site for returning adult students, promotional materials and additional online course offerings. Vilic said in the next phase of the program, the University plans to open the program up to all students seeking to finish their baccalaureate or associate degree. For more information about the Return to Learn program, please contact the College of Continuing Studies at 609-896-5033 or [email protected], or visit www.rider.edu/ccs and www.rider.edu/returntolearn.