The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education created the Reach Higher program in 2007. Known as “Oklahoma’s degree completion program,” it is an adaptable and cost-effective way to finish school for students with some credits but not enough to obtain a degree.

Admission for the associate degree track requires a 2.0 GPA and a minimum of 18 completed credit hours. The bachelor’s degree option, added in 2007, requires a 2.0 GPA and a minimum of 72 completed credit hours. Since the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Education Department’s inception in 2016, its advisers incorporated Reach Higher as an option.

The program attracts undergrads in their mid-40s, according to Reach Higher Manager Sheila Smith.

“The age of the ‘traditional’ student is changing on most campuses,” Smith said. “There is quite a bit of support and encouragement available to help adult students be successful in their academic pursuits.”

How it works

Twenty-two academic institutions participate, including community colleges and universities. All are public, accredited institutions. They offer mostly online classes at competitive rates. A program coordinator works at each Reach Higher institution.

When students enroll, they pick a home institution. They often choose one close to them for support, resources and attending classes. However, they take the necessary courses wherever available.

“You get the flexibility and the freedom to kind of puzzle piece together your degree options to finish that set degree,” said CPN college adviser Joshua Bullock. “Now, the understanding is, with Reach Higher, that all of these schools are offering the same curriculum. It’s the same degree.”

The program offers options such as an associate degree with a business or general studies option. A bachelor’s in organizational leadership is also available.

“The guiding principle behind this is that associate and bachelor’s degrees are becoming more and more needed in Oklahoma,” Bullock said. “This is one way to meet that need and have a much more educated workforce.”

More than 4,800 Reach Higher participants have graduated since 2007, exceeding 5,000 with the spring 2018 semester, according to Smith.

Tribes as partners

Two years ago, the Oklahoma State Regents connected several of the state’s 39 federally recognized tribes, including CPN, with program institutions. Student success and degree completion remain the common goals.

“We are excited about the opportunities to join hands with our tribal educators, working together to help provide step by step assistance regarding advisement, admissions and enrollment,” said Dr. Debbie Blanke, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs for the State Regents.

A year ago, the regents and Tribal Education Departments National Assembly entered an important partnership. Both signed a memorandum of understanding and established a framework for collaboration.

“Through this agreement, the tribes, our agency and our institutions will share best practices and help spotlight the various programs and services available to Native American students across the state of Oklahoma,” Blanke said.

The regents and CPN’s Education Department have met several times since outlining the relationship. Blanke, Smith and other members of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education toured CPN’s facilities to learn about Potawatomi history, Tribal resources and education department goals.

Overcoming obstacles

Bullock said Reach Higher presents adults expanding their education an equal chance.

“Credits are just lying around, and they’re waiting to be used for something,” Bullock said. “If programs like this exist, let’s get them used for something; get you a degree, and (then) get you that pay raise or get you that new job.”

The program stretches CPN academic scholarships further. Bullock welcomes those returning to school to apply for financial aid and request an advising appointment.

In his experience, going back makes adults who have not taken a class in years nervous. Smith agreed, and both calm their clients’ apprehension by letting them know they are not alone while finding appropriate programs.

“Students talk about promises they made to parents, grandparents or other loved ones, and the desire to fulfil the promise to earn their college degree,” Smith said. “Reach Higher has been the program that has helped them accomplish these goals.”

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