Feature Story: Academic Affairs’ CeCE Relaunches Operation Degree Completion

Glenda Todd, SPOC and learner experience manager; Chris Palmer, degree completion specialist

Origin of Operation Degree Completion (ODC)

Students may pause their pursuit of a degree for various reasons, including, financial, personal and academic. Sometimes the pause is more extended than initially expected, leading many students to think their opportunity to complete their degree has passed. Over time, this feeling can become more ingrained, with students believing that obtaining their degree will require starting over or simply unachievable.

In Fall 2009, UCO’s Glenda Todd created Operation Degree Completion, a program designed to encourage and assist former UCO students in returning to complete their degrees. Though the premise is simple, what makes this program unique is a combination of recruitment, personalized advisement and facilitating each step to expedite the process from admission to enrollment through graduation. An individualized approach is provided for each returning student to meet the academic and personal needs of the student while offering encouragement and assistance to reach their ultimate goal of earning a degree.

From 2009 to 2015, the program had phenomenal success resulting in 1,346 degrees being awarded. Additionally, the program was recognized nationally and internationally by organizations including Ruffalo Noel Levitz and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Despite its success, ODC was eventually phased out as the team members transferred positions internally or pursued external opportunities.

Relaunching ODC

Recently, Ms. Todd, now with the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments (CeCE), suggested reviving the original ODC program to bolster enrollment and graduation numbers. Under the guidance of Dr. Linda Banks and Provost Charlotte Simmons, the Operation Degree Completion program was relaunched in Spring 2022. Ms. Todd is leading the initiative and has been joined by Mr. Chris Palmer, formerly of the College of Liberal Arts. Mr. Palmer, now serving as a Degree Completion Specialist, is responsible for guiding students through the steps from admission to graduation. 

Despite its infancy, it is showing great promise. To date, 42 students have been conferred degrees with 29 more currently enrolled in courses required to graduate. As Ms. Todd and Mr. Palmer are quick to tell you, numbers are important. However, it is equally important to remember that each data point has an individual behind each number, an individual with unique barriers they overcame. An individual who decided a college degree was beyond their reach. Now, an individual whose life has been changed by this opportunity to complete the dream they began so many years ago.

Student Stories

Below are some of these stories. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

International student, graduate dilemma, and a hard deadline

“Bob” was in a crisis. Bob was enrolled in a graduate program in Arizona. However, he was temporarily removed from the program because his school had not received verification that he had earned his bachelor’s degree. Bob frantically contacted ODC on March 21st to have a degree verification sent to his graduate program. Bob was firm in conveying that his school gave him a deadline of March 29th to receive the transcript or be permanently removed from the program.

Bob was under the impression he graduated from UCO in the Summer of 2006. Unfortunately, that was untrue as UCO needed an outstanding transcript from OCCC to confer his degree. Bob was advised to obtain his OCCC transcript and submit it to the ODC team as soon as possible, which he did that same day. Mr. Palmer sought the assistance of multiple departments across the UCO community to expedite updating Bob’s academic record. UCO came together and moved mountains, if you will, to confer Bob’s degree within 48 hours of initial contact. Sixteen years after his “stop out”, Bob had officially graduated from UCO. He is now pursuing his graduate degree in Arizona.  

It’s never too late!

“Joey” was a career student, initially enrolling in college in 1978. Though successful in many areas and becoming a well-known member of the community, earning a college degree proved to be an ever-elusive goal, though not for lack of trying. As a part-time student, he started and stopped many times throughout the years. All was great until Fall 2019, when he once again, stopped out.

In January 2022, Joey received a call from ODC. He was thrilled to hear from UCO and was curious about the number of hours he had left to graduate. The ODC team reviewed his record and discussed his options. One of the options discussed would only require Joey to complete an additional five credit hours to earn a degree. Joey was ecstatic! Acknowledging the wonderful opportunity that had been presented, Joey enrolled in the remaining courses and earned his degree in May 2022. The icing on the cake for Joey was walking across stage during commencement and showing his family and friends he finished something he started almost 45 years ago. Joey’s story reminds us that it is never too late to finish.

For More Information

If you have a family member or friend who previously attended UCO, but stopped out before completing their bachelor’s degree, let them know help is available. They can contact Chris Palmer at 405-974-3402 or cpalmer3@uco.edu.