New program proves it’s never too late to graduate

A. Sue Weisler

James Hall is dean of University Studies and executive director of the School of Individualized Study, which is helping people complete their degrees.

It took Rob Livesay 15 years to earn his RIT degree.

Of course, that wasn’t the original plan. In 2005, Livesay found himself just a few classes shy of graduation, but with no money left to pay for school.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, leaving school to start looking for a job,” said Livesay ’17 (applied arts and sciences), who was studying information technology at the time. “I never thought I’d get my RIT degree.”

Through a new program called the Completer Project, RIT is letting former students know that it’s never too late to come back and finish. Nearly 20 alumni have already completed a bachelor’s degree through the program. For Livesay, the results include a framed RIT diploma and a new job as a systems engineer at Oswego (N.Y.) Hospital.

“I wanted something to show for all the time and money I spent working toward this,” said 39-year-old Livesay, from Syracuse, N.Y. “It was personal for me.”

Starting in 2016, the School of Individualized Study (SOIS) began reaching out to non-completers from the last 10 years who left RIT with more than 60 percent of credit hours needed for graduation. While some students do come back to finish a degree in their original college, the Completer Project gives students the option to earn a customized bachelor’s degree that may be more affordable and time efficient to complete.

James Hall, dean of University Studies and executive director of SOIS, was inspired to create the program as another way to offer an affordable and flexible education.

“We’re honoring our commitment to students,” Hall said. “RIT brought these students in and we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to help them cross that finish line.”

Organizers are also getting the chance to learn why students left and how to improve RIT’s academic experience so the university can develop strategies to keep students from leaving in the first place.

“We understand things come up—loved ones get sick, there are financial pressures, time is limited or maybe you get a full-time job offer,” said Sydney Wyse, project coordinator for the Completer Project. “You never think you’ll be gone long, and then 10 years down the road, you haven’t returned.”

Wyse reaches out to completer candidates one-on-one to learn more about each person’s current situation and goals. She’s found that many former students think about returning all of the time, but they didn’t know where to start or were embarrassed of their past record.

For the most part, these are working individuals who aren’t in Rochester anymore. Wyse said that’s OK. She works with students to transfer previous credits to the new degree, apply work experience through a portfolio, and to find classes and tests that students can take online or at a college closer to them.

“We have a host of time- and cost-effective ways that students can complete requirements,” Wyse said.

When Donna Garrett, a Xerox services delivery manager from Russellville, Ark., got the phone call from Wyse, she knew that this was the nudge she needed to get herself back on track to graduate.

Garrett ’18 (applied arts and sciences) started RIT’s applied arts and sciences degree online in 2008, through a continuing education program with Xerox. However, after a death in the family, she had to stop and kept putting off the last few college credits.

Today, after finishing her last two semesters online, the 52-year-old is a proud recipient of an RIT bachelor’s degree and hopes to use it to start a new career in emergency management after she retires.

“My advice for other students looking to finish those last couple classes—don’t be afraid to take just one course during that first semester back,” Garrett said. “Then, once you get into that rhythm, go at it aggressively and finish what you started.”

Want to finish your degree?

Contact RIT’s School of Individualized Study at 585-475-2234 or

Rob Livesay ’17 (applied arts and sciences) finished his degree through the Completer Project. He then landed a new job as a systems engineer. A. Sue Weisler

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