Report: Students left stranded by college closures unlikely to complete their degree

College closures have a detrimental long-term effect on student success, particularly for minority students, according to a recently released National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and State Higher Education Executive Officers Association report. The research center found that less than half (47.1%) of students whose postsecondary institutions closed enrolled in another institution. Of those who re-enrolled, only 36.8% eventually earned a credential, which includes certificates and associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degrees. Just 10.4% were enrolled as of February 2022, and over half (52.9%) stopped out, joining the over 39 million some college, no degree students

Based on data from 143,215 students enrolled in 467 institutions that closed between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2020, the report is the first to analyze completion rates of students who experienced college closures, according to Inside Higher Ed. Since the high-profile closure of for-profit institutions like Corinthian Colleges, policymakers have been more invested in evaluating the effects such closures have on student success. The vast majority (70%) of the students in the report were previously enrolled in schools that shut down without notice and provided no plans to help students earn their credentials.

“School closing effectively closed the doors on the student’s educational dreams,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports. “It’s fairly clear that the difficulty of finding another institution that will accept the credits [students] have already taken is really a challenge.”

Supporting the most vulnerable students

Compared to institutions that have remained open, schools that were most likely to be closed—namely private for-profit institutions—enrolled a disproportionately large number of students of color, low-income students, veterans, and student parents. These students are least likely to have the resources to recover from a closure by re-enrolling quickly, earn a subsequent credential, and pay off student loans, the report finds.

Students who took time off before re-enrolling at another institution were also less likely to earn a credential, and those who attended institutions that shut down abruptly were less likely to re-enroll elsewhere than students whose institutions had a more orderly closure, Inside Higher Ed reports. Only 40% of students whose institutions were shuttered without warning enrolled elsewhere, compared to 63.7% of students whose institutions closed in an orderly manner, according to Higher Ed Dive.

The report recommends that states work to assess the financial health of higher education institutions to prevent school closures. It also advises federal and state regulators to ensure schools have teach-out agreements in place to ensure students have opportunities to earn a degree when campus closure is imminent.

“These abrupt school closures, that are primarily in for-profit institutions, obstruct the K-16 educational pipeline and just devastate our most vulnerable populations,” says Abiola Farinde-Wu, assistant professor of urban education, leadership, and policy studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “If we do not address this issue, we are constructing a cyclical cycle, where our most vulnerable will remain vulnerable, marginalized, disenfranchised, because systems and structures are not ensuring they are supported.”

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