Deondre Brown, left, works with Myra Curtis, retention support specialist with the School of Engineering at Morgan State University, to re- (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Every weekday for a few years, Malik Mosley switched from a full-time worker to a full-time student at 8 a.m., when he finished his overnight shift at an Aberdeen, Md., warehouse and drove to class at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

He managed that workload until a family member suffered an illness in 2013. Juggling school and work while helping to care for his family became too much to manage, and he dropped out during his junior year.

Today, Mosley has a degree in finance, thanks to a program at Morgan designed to entice students who have dropped out to return and finish their degrees. The program has been embraced by the state and is being replicated at other universities and community colleges across the state.

Students who go straight from high school to college and then finish their degrees in four years make up only 44 percent of the students at University System of Maryland colleges, which include 12 of the state’s public institutions. College students in general increasingly work more hours and are more likely to have families. By intervening with dropouts and at-risk students, college administrators said they hope to boost their graduation numbers and help students achieve their goals.

“To have someone give you a second chance, it was what I needed,” said Mosley, 26, of Parkville.

Until recently, when students formally dropped out or simply stopped enrolling in classes, the onus fell on them to re-enroll and finish their degree. But faced with flagging graduation rates, some colleges are turning to creative methods to retain students.

Tiffany B. Mfume, director of Morgan’s Office of Student Success and Retention, had just switched to a new cellphone carrier in 2009 when she got a letter in the mail from her old phone company stating “We want you back!” with a list of benefits she could get if she returned.

That pitch gave her an idea. What if Morgan could use that same strategy to lure back students who had stopped enrolling in classes?

Mfume launched Morgan’s Reclamation Initiative the following year and began calling and emailing students who had stopped attending. The school also mailed them letters modeled on the one she got from the cell phone company, complete with “We want you back!” and a list of perks they could get if they returned, such as a scholarship of up to $2,500 and one-on-one help with the re-enrollment process.

The initiative started as a way to raise Morgan’s six-year graduation rate, which was 29 percent in 2011. But the university has since expanded the effort to reach those who dropped out many years ago. Since 2010, about half of the 134 students Mfume reached out to have re-enrolled. Morgan’s six-year graduation rate has risen from 29 percent to 31 percent. The university has a goal to raise the rate to 50 percent by 2025.

After hearing about Morgan’s program, state lawmakers started a similar statewide initiative through the Maryland Higher Education Commission called One Step Away.

Under that program, colleges can vie for grants of up to $75,000 to pay for scholarships to lure back students, or to pay for support staff or software to help walk students through the process of re-enrolling. The schools target former students who have less than a year left to complete their degrees and are in good academic standing.

Colleges that have won the grants since 2013 include Morgan, many Baltimore-area community colleges, Bowie State University and Notre Dame of Maryland University.

The program is aimed at a state goal of 55 percent of adult Marylanders earning a college degree by 2025. As of 2013, the latest year for which data was available, 43.6 percent of Marylanders had at least an associate’s degree.

“These students aren’t out there sitting on the couch waiting to come back,” said Becky Verzinski, Bowie State’s assistant vice president for assessment. “They’re out there working full-time jobs or raising families or serving in the military. When you understand what it is that they’re facing, it makes it all the more worth it to help them return and get that degree.”

— Baltimore Sun