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CLASS Initiative Helps Non-Graduating Vandals Complete Their Degree

Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.
Photo by Joe Pallen, University of Idaho Visual Productions and courtesy photos from Sarah Sullivan and Jon McKenzie.

Sarah Sullivan ’23 walked at University of Idaho’s commencement in Spring 2013. But she didn’t actually graduate until 10 years later.

Wanting to finish her degree but not knowing exactly how to start, she contacted a friend who worked at University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, who in turn gave Sullivan the contact information for College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) Associate Dean Traci Craig.

Craig and fellow CLASS Associate Dean Annette Folwell are leading CLASS’s Vandal Finish initiative to help former, non-graduating students re-enroll in school and either finish the degree they started or complete a two-year degree in general studies or a four-year degree in general studies or interdisciplinary studies.

Vandal Finish started in Fall 2022, with Sullivan being one of the first graduates to complete their degree through the program.

“Many former students left college for all kinds of reasons,” Craig said. “With Vandal Finish, we can either help you finish the degree you started or put together a degree based on the existing credits you’ve already completed.”

Closeup of woman wearing hat and orange top.
Sarah Sullivan.

From Student to Teacher

After dropping out of school one class short of graduating in 2013 due to medical issues, Sullivan settled in the Coeur d’Alene area, working an assortment of jobs including an in-home pre-K program she ran out of her house.

Teaching, especially early childhood education, was always her passion. Wanting to establish a solid career in teaching and administration, and find a job with higher pay and benefits, she knew she needed to complete her degree. She leaned on the example provided by family members to give her the confidence to finish.

“Both of my sisters got master’s degrees at age 50, so I knew I could do it, too,” she said.

Because she was only one class shy of a degree in psychology, Craig worked with Sullivan to finish her original degree instead of one in general or interdisciplinary studies. 

Annette Folwell

Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies

112 Administration Building


Sullivan took two semesters of online classes while working 30 hours a week as a bookkeeper. In addition to completing the one class she originally left, Sullivan needed to take some additional classes to satisfy updated teaching requirements. In the majority of cases, however, classes taken many years ago — even if they are no longer offered — will count toward your total credits, according to Craig.

“Credits at the undergraduate level don’t expire,” she said. “As long as you took all of your core requirements, we can find a way to make other classes you took count for something toward your degree.”

Sullivan is now the executive director and lead teacher at a non-profit pre-K program in Missoula, Montana, that enrolls 30 children.

‘I Didn’t Give Up’

For the past two years, Craig and Folwell have been contacting eligible former students to see if they are interested in completing their bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, since U of I rolled out their first associate degrees in 2023, Folwell has been contacting former students who may be close to earning a two-year degree.

According to Folwell, the amount of time a student was away from school is not a barrier to completing a degree.

“Our first wave of communication concentrated on students who stopped out during the past 25 years,” she said. “We understand some students have stops and starts in their journey but whether they were away for one year or 50 years, we are happy to talk with any student who wants to complete their degree.”

Jon McKenzie knows a lot about stops and starts. After his service in the United States Army ended in 2001, he obtained his GED and started college at Spokane Community College (SCC), all while working two jobs.

Traci Craig

Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Graduate Studies, and Faculty Affairs

111 Administration Building


I don’t take for granted how hard I worked to get here and I’m so grateful I didn’t give up. Wouldn’t it be something if after all this time, a 40-something-year-old man could not only graduate college but also get accepted to law school? Jon McKenzie, senior

Photo of five people wearing Vandal gear.
Jon McKenzie (L).

Shortly after starting at SCC, he decided to become a full-time auto mechanic and left school.

While still working full-time, he enrolled at North Idaho College in 2014. Struggling with his studies because of time constraints, he dropped out a year later.

After starting a heavy equipment and construction business, Red Castle Transportation, he once again tried to continue his education in 2022. He contacted U of I, was accepted, but got cold feet and didn’t enroll.

Wanting to earn his degree – and also to be a good example for his kids – he re-applied to U of I in 2023, got connected with Craig and will graduate Spring ’24 with a Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.

As if that ending wasn’t special enough, McKenzie’s son Carson and daughter MacKara will also be graduating from U of I with him.

And McKenzie’s educational pursuits may not be done yet – he has his sights set on U of I Law School next.

“I don’t take for granted how hard I worked to get here and I’m so grateful I didn’t give up,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be something if after all this time, a 40-something-year-old man could not only graduate college but also get accepted to law school?”

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