Some College Credit But No Degree: New Initiative Aims to Help Higher Ed Reengage Stopped Out Students

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Managing Editor

Efforts to reengage stopped out college students have taken on renewed importance with continued enrollment declines and the disruptions caused by the pandemic. A new initiative from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is seeking to identify tangible ways in which policymakers can promote equitable degree completions in the wake of these ongoing challenges.

In order to find ways in which the higher education sector can get these students back on track, IHEP worked on a three-year initiative from 2018 to 2021 — dubbed the Degrees When Due initiative — that enlisted nearly 200 institutions representing 23 states to aid students who experienced interruption in completing their degrees.

“Higher education is the surest pathway to a better living and a better life. Yet, the goal of a valuable college credential goes unrealized for too many students, especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds,” the initiative’s accompanying report says. “Today, more than 36 million Americans have some college credit, but no awarded degree and, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the studies of even more students, deepening inequities that already are pervasive.”

IHEP’s report on the initiative details key findings on barriers they identified to students completing their programs.

“This group of students is not homogenous,” the paper finds. “It consists of students across age groups, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender, and economic status.”

The initiative further identified that among the 36 million “some college, but no degree” students in the U.S., about 10%, or more than 3 million, are “near completers,” which according to the researchers are individuals who have completed at least two years’ worth of coursework.

The 52-page report outlines strategies to best support returning students and offers recommendations for policymakers at every level — institutional, state, and federal — to promote equitable degree completion.

Lessons and best practices with partnering institutions included the usage of data mining to examine and pinpoint potential completers, degree auditing to review the ways in which degree requirements could be met, student engagement detailing the role of targeted advising, and degree awarding, which includes elimination of graduation barriers like fees and unnecessary holds.

“This three-year initiative demonstrated that reengaging stopped-out students is a smart and impactful investment of human, financial, and technological capacity,” IHEP said. “The resulting increase in attainment is a win for these stopped-out students and their families, for institutions, for communities, for the workforce, and for society as a whole.”


Publication Date: 5/4/2022

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