Updated March 22 at 9:20pm

Colleges turning dropouts into degree candidates

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

For Joe Botelho, 54, of East Providence, the pressures of completing a degree at Rhode Island College in 1991 were just too much.

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Colleges turning dropouts into degree candidates


For Joe Botelho, 54, of East Providence, the pressures of completing a degree at Rhode Island College in 1991 were just too much.

With a career in real estate taking off, his in-laws were diagnosed with cancer in the same month, and a second child was on the way.

Having already left Providence College after three years of school in 1980 to take a promotion managing convenience stores, Botelho had gone to RIC to major in communications instead of psychology. But life got in the way, until he learned last year about a return-to-college program called “Finish What You Started” at the University of Rhode Island. When he called URI, the school referred him back to RIC, where academic adviser Dolores Passarelli, director of the Office of Academic Support and Information Service, helped him sort through a maze of requirements.

He is now finishing up two final classes this semester as part of RIC’s “Finish Strong” program and is poised to graduate in December.

“As much as I’ve been through in my life, going back to school was a scary prospect,” Botelho said. Passarelli “just made sure I did what I was supposed to do. Every step of the way, I gained more confidence. Every day I’d say, ‘It’s on my bucket list: I am going to do this.’ I feel like I’m on the verge of completing a journey I started 35 years ago.”

Botelho is not alone in abandoning his degree; some 111,000 people in Rhode Island are in similar straits, according to Deborah Grossman-Garber, associate commissioner for academic and student affairs in the Office of Higher Education for the R.I. Board of Education.

According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council’s “Moving the Needle” report, many Rhode Islanders (almost 20 percent of the state’s workforce) had some college but no degree, based on the Lumina Foundation’s analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census data, Grossman-Garber said.

Botelho is taking advantage of “Finish Strong,” a two-year-old program that is designed to help former students finish out their aborted college careers. Both “Finish Strong” and “Finish What You Started” were created to identify students who abandoned their degrees, whether because of academic, financial, personal or other difficulties, and reconnect them with their sense of purpose and plans for completion.

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