Report: 40.4 million former students have college credit but no credential

State and higher education leaders are missing out on opportunities to reach out to students who have stopped out of college, even as that population continues to grow, according to a new report for the 2021-22 academic year from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), The Chronicle of Higher Education says. As of July 2021, the number of Some College, No Credential (SCNC) students was 40.4 million, an increase of 3.6% from 39 million the prior year. The number of SCNC students increased in every state and Washington, DC.

Unlike 2020-21, when women largely outnumbered men among SCNC students (59% vs. 38%, respectively), the 2021-22 numbers were more balanced (45.8% women vs. 45.3% men). Latine and Black students, meanwhile, were overrepresented among SCNC students, as they comprised 43% of SCNC students but just 34.7% of overall undergraduates.

The report shows an 8.4% year-over-year decrease in the number of SCNC students returning to college, along with an 11.8% decrease in the number of SCNC students who earned a credential within a year after re-enrolling.

Pandemic-induced challenges and rising college costs during the 2021-22 academic year were impediments to students enrolling and staying enrolled in their programs, Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center, said in a media briefing covered by Inside Higher Ed. Students were also drawn to jobs that did not require a credential or college degree.

Opportunities for outreach

However, there may be a silver lining to these numbers, Shapiro said. “This population represents a certain level of opportunity for states and institutions that are looking to increase college enrollment and college attainment rates and particularly to reduce equity gaps among college degree recipients,” he noted.

The report identifies two subgroups of SCNC students toward which colleges can direct some of their re-enrollment efforts: “potential completers,” who have already finished at least two years of higher education, and “recent stop-outs,” who left college since the last time NSCRC reported this data in May 2022. Both groups are relatively younger than the overall SCNC population and are more likely to re-enroll or complete a credential within a year after re-enrolling.

To help these subgroups of former students re-enroll, experts from InsideTrack tell Inside Higher Ed that colleges should offer “key supports” that encourage program completion, such as waiving unpaid fees and other financial barriers, establishing a point person who can answer former students’ questions, and offering childcare and competency-based education and credit for former students with full-time jobs and families. They further call on lawmakers to double the Pell Grant and collect data to identify SCNC students and measure the success of re-enrollment campaigns.

“Almost all of higher education right now is trying to figure out how to serve this population,” says Terah Crews, CEO of ReUp Education, which helps adult college students, Inside Higher Ed reports. “I do think we’re going to see major strides over the next decade.”

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