News: Data, Research & Evaluation

Report: 36 Million Americans Have Some College, No Degree

Monday, November 4, 2019  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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Brace yourself for a big number: At least 36 million Americans have some postsecondary education but no degree or certificate and are no longer enrolled. This is according to a new report, aptly titled “Some College, No Degree,” from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). The massive population holds a lot of potential for shifting not only macro-level attainment rates nationally but also for reconnecting individuals with postsecondary pathways that could change their personal and professional trajectories.

The report is a follow-up to a similar report from 2014. Since that report’s release, about 940,000 students who were “some college, no degree” in 2014 re-enrolled and are now completers. More than a million more students had re-enrolled as of December 2018. This is encouraging and shows that leaving college is not a permanent choice for large swaths of students.

Adding to the optimism is the estimate that 10% of the 36 million some college, no degree students are what the NSCRC calls “potential completers” who have already made two years of academic progress. These students, as expected, are more likely to re-enroll and complete.

Per usual with NSCRC reports, there is an accompanying data set. It includes national figures on the some college, no degree population as well as five-year follow-ups on students who re-enrolled, completed, and/or made academic progress. These are broken out by institutional sector, state, number of stop-outs, and other useful categorical variables.

At a release event last week, panelists discussed how state- and institution-level policies can facilitate some college, no degree students’ return. For example, institutions can reach out to stop-outs to make it easier for them to return (by waiving fees, reducing tuition, or giving expedited course selection). The Tennessee Reconnect program is a specific statewide initiative intended to increase postsecondary attainment in that state. Dedicated “navigators” walk students through their options and provide them with guidance on their next steps.

The report highlights important realities about the students served by postsecondary education today. There are huge swaths of “non-traditional” students who need to have their attendance facilitated as they navigate around full- or part-time work, organizing childcare and other family responsibilities, and commuting to campuses.

NCAN will continue to highlight promising practices that can re-engage these students and see them complete a degree or credential.