For Christina Rubie, 2008 wasn’t the right time to pursue a college degree.
After undergoing two emergency surgeries, Rubie put college aside. But 12 years later, she picked up where she left off at South Central College’s North Mankato campus. She plans to become a doctor.
Rubie said she can’t imagine returning to school without participating in MN Reconnect, a program designed to assist adult students in resuming and completing their college educations.
“It’s given me the opportunity to not give up on my dreams,” Rubie said of Minnesota Reconnect. “… There’s not a feeling in the world that can compare to that.”
Qualifying MN Reconnect students receive $1,000 scholarships for six semesters, including summers, to put toward tuition or any number of life expenses that may present barriers to earning their degree. That could include rent, mortgages, food, transportation and childcare. The $1,000 is an increase from last year’s $500 scholarships, and in addition to that, students may receive up to $1,000 to help with their past college debt.
Program participants must be between the ages of 25 and 62 and have at least 15 college credits under their belt, which they earned no less than two years ago. Since the program aims to help adult students finish what they started, adults who already earned a diploma or certificate are not eligible for Minnesota Reconnect. Participants must fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) from the federal government to qualify.
Apart from SCC, eight other colleges in the state offer the MN Reconnect program: Riverland Community College, Central Lakes College, Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills Community College, Lake Superior College, Minneapolis College, North Hennepin Community College, and Pine Technical Community College.
Rubie found it easy to fill out the two-page application for MN Reconnect, and she called her advisor, Matt Leisen, an “absolutely phenomenal” program navigator with all the resources he provides. Each participating college has a program navigator to help students develop their academic plans, figure out which classes to take and navigate resources for any number of conflicts that arise in their personal and academic lives.
As a navigator for the MN Reconnect program, Leisen said he works with his students as often as possible, mainly online for now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is a point of contact where a text or email will go out to them, and I will try to meet with them at least three times throughout the semester,” said Leisen. “The idea is high contact and wanting to make sure they keep academics the foremost priority in their life.”
Across both Mankato and Faribault campuses, Leisen said 87 students have enrolled in the Minnesota Reconnect program since it started at SCC. Twenty-nine students enrolled in fall 2019 and 24 in the spring of 2020 across both Faribault and Mankato campuses.
Amy Wagner, academic advisor and school navigator for Riverland Community College, has a caseload of about 50 Minnesota Reconnect students per semester across Riverland’s three campuses.
“We want to support [MN Reconnect students] in school, but that also means supporting everything else to allow them to go to school,” said Wagner.
Wagner generally meets with her students face to face unless they take all their classes online, but since March she’s met with students via Zoom more frequently. Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she set specific times and dates to visit each campus and set times in the late afternoon to coordinate with students who are parents who work during the day.
“Sometimes if students weren’t successful the first time they went to college, if they have anxiety about coming back, that is my role to help them make sure they’re not going through this alone,” said Wagner. “I always tell the students that I work with, ‘For whatever reason the first time you [attended college] it wasn’t the right time for you to finish, and I want to help you finish.’”
Amber Friesen, a part-time psychology student, was pleased to find out about MN Reconnect after enrolling at Riverland Community College last year. At 33 years old, she didn’t want to waste time or energy worrying about her credits transferring. Through MN Reconnect, she anticipates completing her two-year degree at Riverland next spring and plans to transfer to Minnesota State University, Mankato from there.
“I think it’s just awesome and a lot of people should do it,” Friesen said. “I thought about going back to school for probably at least five years and just never took the jump. If I’d known how easy this was, I probably would have done it sooner.”
Friesen said she’s impressed with how much Wagner has helped in the process, not only academically, but to make sure Friesen can seamlessly transition to MNSU.
“It’s nice that it’s for people who are non-traditional students,” Friesen said of MN Reconnect. “Amy was able to give me more nonspecific help and balance classes with home life, so I could stay at home and homeschool my kids.”