Original reporting and investigation by Austin Book
In late September 2019, former Eastern Echo reporter, Austin Book, began a follow-up to an Echo article regarding ReUp Education’s endeavors at Eastern Michigan University.
Founded in 2015 by Sarah Horn, the company’s CEO, along with Nitzan Pelman, and Paul Freedman, ReUp Education is a business venture based in San Francisco, California aiming to re-enroll dropped out, or in the company’s terminology, “stopped-out," students at universities and community colleges throughout the United States.
ReUp’s goal as business is to build a “national onramp for college completion aimed at transforming higher education into a more dynamic and equitable ecosystem” through “thousands of returning students [to colleges], millions in recaptured tuition, and billions in long-term economic impact.”
EMU now currently has a three year service agreement with ReUp. According Michael Tew, Associate Provost & Associate Vice President for Academic Programs and Services at EMU, ReUp began contacting EMU in September of 2018 in order to aid the university in re-enrolling students.
Regarding ReUp’s initial outreach to the university, Tew stated that the university was unenthusiastic. “I brought a group of folks together, [including] some of the other leadership around enrollment-management and retention . . . and our original response was ‘no thank you, we’re not interested.’“
Tew went on to state that ReUp’s persistence, especially in regards to alleviating the concerns of the administrators such as including re-enrolling students at a high enough rate to warrant whatever costs the university would incur. “We were then generally satisfied with that ongoing discussion, and it was probably about December of last year  that we decided to pursue a relationship with them.”
According to Tew, the benefit of ReUp is primarily attributed to its student coaching. The coach is expected to stay in contact with the re-enrolled student for three semesters to maintain enrollment. ReUp is in "direct contact with our advising center all of the time, so he (the Re-Up student coach) works with advising, with transfer admissions, with admissions in general, and financial aid,“ said Tew.
Regarding coaching Tew added, “They (the coach) might help the student find a way to even apply for scholarships they might have been not aware of . . . our coach is aware of all the different options that students have.”
ReUp employs their own staff, including re-enrollment coaches. The student re-enrollment coach, or "success coach”, through ReUp for EMU is John Reyes, Jr. Reyes is the sole coach for EMU. Reyes also conducts re-enrollment coaching for another institution through ReUp.
Re-enrollment efforts target students who stopped enrolling prior or since the winter semester of 2018, or students who have not attended classes for at least a year and half. Outreach has targeted students who enrolled as long ago as 2007. Students who have transferred or have completed their degree elsewhere, are however, not contacted.
“The idea is some of our students. . . have a lot of college credits . . . but no actual college credentials,” Tew said. “So the objective is to bring them back and figure out a responsible way for them to find a degree. Whether that’s the degree they intended from the beginning from when they enrolled or something else. But that’s part of how our coach from ReUp advises to make that possible."
Coaching is done via email, phone call, and text messaging. When interviewed, Reyes held a list of over 10,000 contacts who attended EMU but did not complete their degree. Within the 12-year time frame, Reyes is responsible for contacting and coaching these “stopped-out” students.
When asked whether he knew how long a coach would work with students once they enrolled in the program, Reyes was unsure.
Through ReUp, 31 students re-enrolled for the summer semester of 2019 at EMU. 145 students re-enrolled in the fall semester of 2019. There is no data, however, for how many students re-enrolled with the university in the fall semesters of 2018 or fall 2017 prior to ReUp’s partnership with EMU.
Tew went on to call the partnership a two-way street. "They really set out to understand EMU, our culture, and our students, so that when they are reaching out to students, they really are, in many ways, an extension of EMU, reaching out to those students in ways that we simply don’t have the human resources to do.”
The Echo contacted Brandon Werth, a former EMU student who planned to re-enroll in his Bachelor's degree in order to study business administration. When re-enrolled he would stand as a junior, with roughly 70 credits hours completed.
Werth had attended EMU in the fall semester of 2011. “I think I attended [EMU] for two semesters,” prior to that he initially attended Michigan Technical University for a degree in computer science. Once enrolled at Michigan Tech for 1.5 years (three semesters) werth then transferred to Washtenaw Community College. He attended WCC for the winter and summer semesters before finally transferring to EMU.
“After so many major changes, I kind of lost some steam. I was feeling burnt out at that point. I needed to take a break . . . You’re wasting a lot of money and a lot of time,“ Werth said. "So that’s when I decided I was just going to take some time off, and . . . work on myself.”
When asked about re-enrolling at EMU said that he always foresaw himself coming back to school. “A couple years fly by, and it’s like ‘wow, I really need to get back into this.’” Werth said. “I had been considering going back for eight years. I had previously gone back, and I realized ‘I’m not invested,’ and you need to be."
With his business degree he sees pathways of furthering his career at his job. "Not only that but I can see how the degree would affect my job. Application of the material that you’re learning is huge," Werth said.
He described his communication with ReUp’s representative to EMU, John Reyes, as being “open-minded [and] understanding." His recruitment consisted mostly of over the phone contact. John helped him through the steps of re-applying through setting timely goals.
Werth planned to enroll at EMU for six credit hours for the winter semester of 2020. When contacted during the winter semester of 2020 Werth clarified that he was enrolled in one three credit, in person, course in the Depart of Finance and Accounting. The amendment to his course load was resultant on the part of miscommunication on the part of the professor, according to Werth.
"I was planning on taking 6 credits . . . The other class was actually originally canceled, in which, I tried to sign up for an online course . . . Neither of us [Werth and the professor of the course] contacted each other for the first week . . . [and] I was unfamiliar with canvas and how online courses worked exactly at the time. . . From the outcome . . . I was convinced to NOT take the online course.”
Werth alleges that in the process he was “bullied” by the professor of the online course. As of publishing, Werth has yet to address this issue with the department for which the course falls under.
The program spring semester of 2019. Other efforts by EMU to re-engage dropped out students include Eagle Engage Corps. Eagle Engage Corps combines student debt forgiveness with public service.
For each enrolled student ReUp receives 30 percent of net tuition, according to EMU Today. That value is "not inclusive of financial aid.” ReUp will only receive the tuition value through three semesters of enrollment.
According to Tew, if a student wishes to re-enroll at EMU they should contact the university directly.
"That would be the easiest way to come back to the program. If they really wanted to work with a coach on an extensive basis, they would contact EMU, and we would redirect them toward ReUp. If they needed more attention or more support, then we can provide that.”