Free Course Offered To Help First Year Students Make the Grade

Prioritizing student success for learners impacted by COVID-19 disruptions, the University of Maine System is extending its Make the Grade free course offer for first year students who failed a course in the fall 2020 semester

Make the Grade Making a Difference: First-to-second year retention for students who failed a course their first semester climbs 5 percentage points despite the pandemic as Make the Grade and other student-focused initiatives improve outcomes

Orono, Maine — Marking the end of final exams for the Fall 2020 semester, the University of Maine System announced that it will again be offering a free college course to promising first-year students who failed a class during their first semester. Chancellor Malloy launched the Make the Grade Student Success Initiative in December of 2019 as a pilot project to support students struggling to make the transition from high school to college with the resources and support they need to stay on track to success.  

The first-to-second year retention rate increased 5 percentage points in the first year of the Make the Grade initiative.  More than 150 students who failed a first semester course applied for the tuition waiver before the start of their second semester.  The Make the Grade initiative is part of a larger student success and retention focus initiated by Chancellor Malloy in the Fall of 2019.  Many factors, including intrusive student advising, increased student support, billing modifications, the dedication and innovation of faculty and staff, and the student success focus of the UMS pandemic response have contributed to the first-to-second year retention rate improvement.  

In support of the University of Maine System’s leadership team and strategic focus the Harold Alfond Foundation pledged to invest $240 million in the University of Maine System earlier this fall, including $20 million to support student success and retention initiatives.  

Kaylee Weston of Machias is a sophomore at the University of Maine at Machias this fall majoring in elementary education who plans to teach in Washington County after graduation.  She ‘made the grade’ in college algebra and the Dean’s list last spring after struggling with the course as a new college student in the Fall of 2019.  

“I love school and have always been a good student, but it can take awhile to make the adjustment from high school to college,” said Kaylee Weston.  “The Make the Grade offer made a big difference for me.  After falling short in my first semester of college algebra I was able to get extra help and worked with a tutor to pass the class and make the Dean’s list in the spring.  

“I am a better, more confident student now and will be a better teacher knowing that second chances are a great learning opportunity,” continued Weston. 

“Everything in public higher education begins and ends with student success,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “We know that the transition to college-level work and life away from home can be a struggle for many students.  Our faculty and staff are committed to student achievement and making sure learners get the support they need to persist with their education.”  

Improvement in First-to-Second Year Retention

  • 44% of first year students who failed a course in the Fall of 2018 returned for the start of their sophomore year in 2019.  The first-to-second year rate for all students was 76%
  • 49% of first year students who failed a course in the Fall of 2019 returned for the start of their sophomore year in 2020.  The first-to-second year rate for all students was 78%
  • Over 150 first-year students who failed a course their first semester in 2019 applied for the Make the Grade free course in the Spring of 2020.
  • At UMaine 83% of the first year students who received a free Make the Grade course returned for the Fall of 2020, just 1% below the return rate (84%) for first-year students who did not fail a class in their first semester.  
  • The overall first-to-second year retention rate for all students increased from 76% in the Fall of 2019 to 78% for the Fall of 2020. 
  • A UMS in-state student working toward college success with a free Make the Grade three credit-hour course will save an average of $807 in tuition costs. 

Students who qualify for a Make the Grade free course waiver will be hearing from their universities over the winter break about their eligibility and to discuss available academic and student support resources.  Criteria vary by campus.

The University of Maine at Augusta has a Make the Grade website that provides an example of program eligibility and the steps students can take to take advantage of the free course and many other resources available to support their success.  

Additional Students Who Are Making the Grade

Will Bridges is a sophomore from Presque Isle who changed his major after his first semester to exercise science with plans to be an athletic trainer.  He manages a busy schedule of work and athletics in addition to his academics.  He struggled with a calculus class his first semester and took advantage of the Make the Grade offer to take and pass statistics, a core requirement for graduation and his major. 

“It took me time as a college student to understand the importance of communication and confidently advocating for assistance on challenging material,” said UMPI sophomore Will Bridges. “During my second semester I worked with a professional academic advisor starting on day one and had a much better handle on how to get the help I needed to be successful.”

Maddy Geidel is a University of Maine at Farmington sophomore from Palermo, Maine studying secondary education math with plans to teach in a Maine high school following graduation.  She used the Make the Grade offer to earn an A in calculus in the spring semester of her first year in college after struggling with the intensiveness of the material in her first semester.

“The Make the Grade offer was a lot more than just a chance to take calculus again at no cost,” said UMF sophomore Maddy Geidel.  “I learned that a lot of good students just like me can have a hard time when we first get to college.  The right learning style and reaching out for help makes all the difference.”