University of Maryland, College Park

Posted on February 1, 2010

Returning Students Program

Dr. Deborah Pruitt, a Newcombe Scholarship recipient while a student at UMCP, said, “I was overwhelmed when I got the call offering me a scholarship from the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation. It came at a time when I really needed the vote of confidence – and the cash to get me through! … Receiving that gift helped me to believe I could succeed as a scholar.” Over five hundred mature women since 1981 have received Newcombe Scholarships at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) and are alumnae of the Returning Students Program. Since 1975, UMCP’s Returning Students Program has responded to the special needs of nontraditional students by offering essential academic, financial and personal support. The University’s outreach to this population has generated a number of compelling stories of women and men balancing many roles and struggling with their education while handling financial challenges. The Newcombe Foundation celebrates its partnership with UMCP and the success of each of these students.

The Returning Students Program (RSP) is part of the Learning Assistance Service of the Counseling Center at the University of Maryland College Park. Beverly Greenfeig and Barbara Goldberg, co-coordinators of the Returning Students Program at the Counseling Center have long realized that the concerns of individuals who have been away from school for some period of time are not the same as those of traditional college freshman. Accordingly, the services of the RSP are designed specifically for individuals who are twenty-five years old or older, have experienced a break in their formal education, and would like to return to or begin college study.

The Returning Students Program is the only “one-stop” campus service to access all the resources the university has to offer older students. In their thirty-five years of service, the staff has developed strong and deep networks across campus, knowing how to help students find tutors, obtain guidance from specific academic departments, and receive career and counseling services. They have helped students who were overwhelmed and ready to drop out because of a lack of emotional and academic support find a campus home, network, persevere and complete their degrees. Initially, the program was designed to meet the needs of women, but it has expanded to include men, as their number has increased in the “non-traditional” student population. Many students have shared a common sentiment: “It’s the only place on campus where somebody knows my name or who I am.”

student Alison Lo and University of Maryland, College Park staff
Alison Lo, 2009 Newcombe Scholar, is joined by Barbara Goldberg (left) and Beverly Greenfeig (far right), Co-Coordinators of the Returning Students Program at the UMCP Celebration of Scholarships in April 2009.

Initiated through funding from a Women’s Educational Equity Grant, the Returning Students Program at UMCP offers a comprehensive range of services for students over twenty-five, which includes:

  • An orientation program designed specifically for adult students
  • Workshops on study and exam skills, writing, note taking, time management, exam anxiety, career exploration, dealing with multiple roles in life, assertiveness, and financial aid
  • Individual counseling, information and referral services
  • Financial support through scholarships and loans
  • A mentoring program
  • Academic counseling to discuss the transition to the university and to develop effective study strategies
  • A newsletter and Financial Aid brochure for returning students

Among the most popular services offered by the RSP is an undergraduate course entitled “College and Career Advancement for Returning Students,” that emphasizes the important resources and skills that adults returning to college need to make a smooth transition to the university environment. Assistance in choosing a major, career planning and vocational testing, study skills, exam skills, and time management are basic to the curriculum. The student is introduced to campus resources and provided information about campus life; participation in this course also helps students develop a supportive campus network.

The mentoring program was originally called a “Warmline,” (not a hotline or a crisis line). Returning students serve as mentors to newer students in the program, providing guidance to those who are following in the same footsteps. Most of the users are returning students who do not have the time to join a formal support group. Students contact their mentors when they need a warm, caring person on the phone or by email to listen, offer advice and support.

The Coffee and Conversation support group provides returning students an opportunity to meet with other students facing similar concerns. Offered weekly in fall and spring semesters for over thirty years, students stop by informally to share experiences and information, meet other students, find academic partners, and form study groups, all while enjoying coffee and bagels or lunch. It has become a vehicle for students to meet, to avoid feeling isolated, and to form friendships that continue beyond the weekly meetings.

Among the most compelling indicators of the success of this program are stories of students whose lives have been changed by the encouragement and assistance provided by the staff of the RSP. Students have found a home base on a large campus where practical assistance is offered in conjunction with personal validation of their academic pursuits. A student said, “When I first returned to school, I felt there was no place for me on campus. I’m glad there is a (Returning Students) program for people like me who are coming back to school at a ‘different’ age.”

For further information about the Returning Students Program at University of Maryland College Park, please visit the website.