When Matthew Traylor graduated with his degree in technology management in December, he made history.
Traylor, originally from Avondale, graduated from high school 20 years ago. During that time, he joined the military, became a father, enrolled in college, worked part-time, got married and re-enrolled in college. Each time, despite his hard work and best intentions, he wasn’t quite able to finish his college degree. But it was on his mind, and when an email from a new program landed in his inbox last year, a way opened for him to come back to NAU and finish his degree.
When he walked across the stage with his classmates, he was the first graduate of NAU’s Jacks on Track—a new program funded by the Lumina Foundation and the President’s Equitable Value Fund that helps students who are partway through a degree but weren’t able to finish.
“The goal of Jacks on Track is to provide individualized, holistic support to students so that they can get back on track to completing their degrees,” said program manager JJ Boggs, who was instrumental in getting Traylor back in the classroom. “Matthew and his family joined the commencement festivities in December and even had their picture taken with President Cruz Rivera. The best part is that Matthew now has his sights set on a master’s degree.”
A wild ride
When Traylor graduated from high school in 2002, he immediately joined the Army, where he got a crash course in IT and electronics. When he completed his tour, he returned home; he was a single father and needed to put his knowledge to use. He enrolled in a program at Estrella Mountain Community College while working part-time.
From there, he enrolled in the 90/30 program, which allows students to take up to 90 credits at statewide locations or online before transferring to NAU for 30 upper-division courses.
“I went pretty steady through a good portion of it, and then life got in the way,” he said. “I got married, bought a house and my wife got sick and hurt—almost all at the same time. So, I took some time off.”
When he was able to re-enroll, Traylor thought he was back on track, but he ran into more obstacles, this time in the classroom. Despite having a GPA above 3.0, he failed his final capstone class in 2015. When he returned in 2020, he retook it with the same instructor and again wasn’t able to finish. At that point, he stopped taking classes. He was what is known as a stop-out student—he didn’t drop out, he just stopped taking classes, despite being so close to finishing his degree.
A couple of years passed. Then, in late August, Traylor got an email from NAU’s Jacks on Track. Admittedly a little frustrated, he shot back an email about his concerns. Then, unexpectedly to him, he got an email not from Jacks on Track but from Boggs, who said she wanted to talk about his concerns about coming back to school and what resources could help him succeed.
“We scheduled a call, and she listened to me,” he said. “She went to bat and helped find a way to satisfy my degree. I was very concerned about taking the same class with the same instructor, and she found that there was an alternative class that I could take that would satisfy the requirement. It turns out that the class was a blast!”
Boggs could tell from her first emails with Traylor that he wanted to finish his degree; within two weeks, he submitted an application for readmission. Then the conversation turned to repeating his capstone course; Boggs, recognizing that Traylor needed a different path to success, worked with others to identify that alternative course option, in which Traylor excelled.
“Matthew and I mostly kept in touch via quick email exchanges—lots of emails,” she said. “Once we got him enrolled and finalized his financial aid, he was really self-sufficient. I would email periodically to check in, and he’d send me updates on his assignments and course progress.
The emails persisted with questions about processes or deadlines, but when he passed his class, they upped the ante: “We celebrated his accomplishment with a phone call!”
What is Jacks on Track?
Jacks on Track is a program that started July 1 and is focused on helping recent stop-out students graduate with a bachelor’s or associate degree. The program focuses on students who were last enrolled in 2020-2021 and who are near-completers, having already earned 60 or more credits. Supporting stop-out students who are near degree completion and providing additional layers of support and understanding for underrepresented groups will have an outsized impact on transforming lives, advancing NAU’s vision and supporting the Lumina Foundation’s attainment goals.
It is designed to reduce barriers to reenrollment and bachelor’s degree completion and to coordinate the reverse transfer with community college partners so that students can receive associate degrees for credits already earned. Although the program is new, it has a cohort of students who stopped out in 2020-2021 after having earned 60 or more credits. NAU reached out directly to these students encouraging them to schedule a short meeting with a Jacks on Track staff member to talk through what courses were needed to graduate, how to access available financial aid, what options there were for students spread out throughout the country and help the students find the tools they needed to be successful.
Learn more about Jacks on Track and how to re-enroll at NAU at the Jacks on Track website.