Program helps students make it to graduation

USF senior Anita Arnett didn’t think she would make it to graduation day.

She received a scholarship that granted her in-state tuition, but then lost it and was unable to find other ways to pay for school. She said she contemplated dropping out in December 2008 but a program changed her mind.

The Don’t Stop, Don’t Drop program, founded by USF President Judy Genshaft, offers financial assistance for student fees including tuition, housing and food.

Arnett, an international student from the Bahamas majoring in business management, said she heard about the program from her adviser in the College of Business.

Arnett said Samuel Wright, an ombudsman at USF who handles a variety of student issues, helped her find a scholarship that allowed her to remain at the University.

Arnett is not alone. In the downturn of the economy, many college students to contemplate the possibility of dropping out.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Florida has the second largest percent increase of federal financial aid applicants since last year, with 383,247 in 2007-2008 and 481,259 in 2008-2009 school year.

Since its start in August 2008, Don’t Stop, Don’t Drop has helped more than 180 students, said Lesley Miller, director of the program.

“As far as we know right now, we’re the only university in the country that has such a program,” he said.

Miller said neither students nor parents are asked for detailed financial information, and that students are asked to visit the Financial Aid Office first, because some are unaware they qualify for financial aid.

Miller said he would like to enhance the program with donations from alumni. The donations would increase the program’s funds, allowing it to help more students.

“Every student moves you, every student who walks in here, because they all want to stay in school — they don’t want to drop out,” he said. “Their ultimate goal is to reach that day they can walk across that stage and shake the president’s hand and get that diploma.”

Arnett said the program allowed her to stay in school and that she will graduate this summer.

“It benefited me because I’m still here and I’m about to graduate,” she said. “I didn’t think that it would happen, but if it wasn’t for that program and Wright I would have probably given up and gone back home.”