Amber Palmer is the project coordinator for Complete to Compete (C2C), a state program designed to help Mississippi adults complete their college degrees. She knows the program well because she previously served as the C2C grant administrator, a position where she processed applications and awarded scholarships.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies at Belhaven University in 2014 and an MBA from Mississippi State University in 2017. She is on target to complete a doctorate in higher education administration at the University of Southern Mississippi in August 2022.
Palmer’s career at the state Institutions of Higher Learning has also included work as a project coordinator for academic and student affairs and as a special assistant to the deputy commissioner.
What is the Complete to Compete program? When was it established?
“Complete to Compete, also known as C2C, is a state program designed to help Mississippi adults complete their college degrees. It was established in August 2017.”
What is the goal of C2C?
“Our mission with C2C is to increase the number of Mississippians with post-secondary degrees.”
Who is eligible for C2C?
“To be eligible for Complete to Compete, an individual would need to be at least 21 years old, not have earned a postsecondary degree and have been out of college for the last two years, 24 consecutive months.”
Do you have to be a Mississippi resident to be eligible for C2C?
“You don’t have to be a Mississippi resident to participate. We offer a C2C grant and you have to be a resident to be eligible for that.”
How does the program assist adults who are thinking about returning to college?
“We have C2C coaches at our 15 community colleges and eight public universities and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A coach will walk a student through every part of the process from admission to enrollment to degree completion and graduation and is ready to answer questions.
“If you are an adult learner, you may not be familiar with some of the processes at an institution because they may have changed, and degree requirements may have changed. We want to address any barriers than an adult learner may face.
“Each campus has at least one C2C coach and some have two coaches. We have conducted research about our graduates and many of them highlight the coaches as the key to their success in completing their degrees.”
How does an individual enroll in the C2C program?
“An individual interested in the program can visit our website, msc2c.org, and complete an application. The application is accessible year-round. There is no fee to apply.
“We have a call center in place so a representative can immediately reach out to an applicant. We understand the value in striking while the iron is hot. A call center rep will reach out and make sure the application meets the qualification and provide an overview of the tuition assistance grant. From there our call center rep will place an applicant in contact with a C2C coach.”
How are the C2C tuition assistance grants funded?
“In September, C2C received $1.3 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund tuition assistance grants through 2022. That adds to the funding from the Mississippi Department of Human Services. From that funding, we’re able to offer each qualified participant a C2C Tuition Assistance Grant that is $1,000 a semester and is renewable each semester if an individual remains in good standing.
“For an individual enrolling at a community college a C2C grant could cover two classes. A grant could go to eliminate debt a participant may owe at the institution they’ve attended and that can be helpful. A student cannot be admitted to an institution without his or her transcript. An institution will not release that if a student owes a debt. We have a process worked out with C2C where an unofficial copy of a transcript will be released. That helps release a barrier some of our adult students may face.”
How do you get the word out about C2C?
“We have conducted three rounds of targeted marketing since the program began in August 2017. We have sent e-mails out to potential students and direct mail pieces to potential students. We have an outbound call center that makes calls to potential students.
“We also have our website, msc2c.org, and a Facebook page.”
How does C2C help move Mississippi ahead?
“C2C helps improve the state’s economy by increasing the number of adults with degrees. We realize there are many great opportunities for individuals who have post-secondary training. It has a ripple effect. It eafects the state and the equality of life of our graduates and their families.”
How many individuals have applied to C2C?
“To date, we have had over 29,000 applications. Of that 29,000, over 5,000 students from August 2017 to the present have enrolled in C2C. We currently have 1,100 students enrolled.
We have awarded over 2,400 associate and bachelor’s degrees.”
What keeps someone from completing a degree?
“The main things are family responsibilities and the time commitment. Some individuals must juggle raising a family and working and that sometimes takes precedence over completing a degree. Also, emergencies come up such as losing a parent or children becoming sick and that may be a barrier.
“Family responsibilities, financial barriers and time commitments are the top three reasons we hear about why individuals do not complete degrees.”
Why don’t all applicants go on to finish their degrees?
“The research we’ve conducted showed that are financial barriers even in light of our tuition assistance grants. Others have changed their mind and realize their current responsibilities do not allow them to have the time.”
What is the university studies degree program that is part of C2C?
“The university studies degree program is for a student who has earned at least 90 credit hours but hasn’t earned a degree and has been out of school for 24 months. The benefit is an individualized approach based on the coursework that has been completed and someone’s career goals. Some institutions accept up to 30 hours of technical credit.
“Over 1,300 university studies degrees have been awarded. Academic forgiveness is part of that program. Some courses that a student may not have done well in may not be factored in a student’s graduation GPA.”
How old are individuals who applied for C2C?
“We have had individuals well into their 70s complete their degrees.”
What prompted some individuals to apply to C2C?
“Personal fulfillment is one reason. We had a student whose parents and all his siblings had completed a degree from an institution, and he had not, but he was able to complete his degree and join them in celebrating their affiliation.
“We have some individuals who needed a post-secondary degree to receive a promotion in their current jobs. Some individuals have shared that they want to model for their children that this is something that can be done, regardless of the situation. They want to set the example of completing their degree.”
What would you say to someone who is interested in learning more?
“I would say now is the time to look into completing your degree. Our website offers information about the programs and resources. The first step is visiting our website. I am open to phone calls as well if someone has questions.”