Adults can finish degrees


By Gary L. Miller, President of The University of Akron and Para M. Jones, President of Stark State College
Published in the Akron Beacon Journal on October 9, 2022.

Adults Can Finish Degrees

Too many students leave college without a degree.

In the past two years alone, some 39 million students in the U.S. — and more than 1.3 million students in Ohio — left their college or university before earning a diploma. Many students "stop out" because of such life issues as caregiving responsibilities, a lack of housing or reliable transportation, or financial instability.

Once students leave, it can be hard if not impossible to come back, especially if they owe money to their college or university. Historically, students with unpaid tuition fees — or even a past library fine or overdue parking ticket — were prevented from registering for classes, re-enrolling in school, or accessing their transcripts because of this institutional debt. Nationally, 6.6 million students owe some form of institutional debt to their college or university, and the amount owed can be as little as $25. An estimated 60,000 people who owe institutional debt to their college or university live in Northeast Ohio.

This is a problem we can solve. As college presidents, we want to help Ohioans complete their college education. We want to help Ohio and the region meet our educational attainment goals, and we want to ensure that employers in our communities and across the state have the educated workforce needed to be competitive.

Debt forgiveness is possible

Stark State College and the University of Akron, along with six other Northeast Ohio colleges and universities, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), Ithaka S+R and College Now Greater Cleveland, have launched the Ohio College Comeback Compact to get our citizens back into college and on the path to a degree and career advancement. Our college and university partners are Cleveland State, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College and Youngstown State.

Here’s how the College Comeback Compact works:

  • Each institution is reaching out to the students who have “stopped out” or “dropped out” of their institution.
  • Students can re-enroll at any of the eight participating colleges or universities, have up to $5,000 of their debt forgiven and their transcript hold released after the completion of two terms or upon graduation. This allows students to transfer and/or apply for job opportunities.

Employers and economy also benefit from comeback plan

The College Comeback Compact benefits students, employers and our regional and state economy:

  • Students benefit from having their institutional debt forgiven after they complete two terms of education and/or a degree.
  • Students have access to their transcripts, so they can continue their education at any of the eight institutions in the compact.
  • Colleges and universities in the compact agree to share in the expenses and revenues associated with serving students in the program, with ODHE support.

“The Ohio Department of Higher Education is committed to working with the outstanding public colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio to make Ohio College Comeback a success,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the ODHE. “Ohio companies need educated workers, and that need is growing with the unprecedented number of multinational companies moving to our state. The goal of Ohio College Comeback is to encourage adults to return to college to finish degrees so they can advance their careers in our growing economy.”

UA and Stark State are proud to be part of this innovative pilot program, which provides a seamless path to degree completion to Northeast Ohio residents who have earned some college but did not complete their degree. Along with the Fresh Start Program for student loan defaulters launched by the U.S. Department of Education, we have the opportunity to welcome back our students previously excluded from continuing their education.

 We are honored that Gardner came to our colleges and universities to pilot this program, which provides an unprecedented opportunity for adults in our communities to complete college degrees, advance their careers, their lives and their families’ lives. In addition to benefiting individuals, this unique program will benefit employers and the economy through more well-educated and future-ready citizens.

The Ohio College Comeback Compact program is accepting eligible students for the 2nd Eight Weeks fall 2022 and the spring 2023 terms. Eligible students will be contacted by their college or university to discuss the program in more detail. Students can check the eligibility requirements and learn more about the program at

Gary L. Miller
The University of Akron

Para M. Jones
Stark State College