credits degrees

Closing the ‘drop-out gap’ for students near credit completion


A new report analyzes the troubling trend of students who leave institutions despite being close to degree attainment

New research reveals that nearly 1 in 5 students who do not graduate from college have completed 75 percent or more of their required credits, highlighting a troubling gap in college completion.

The analysis of more than 300,000 students at 53 institutions, released by Civitas Learning, also shows that 1 in 10 students will reach the 90 percent credit completion threshold before leaving without a degree.

At four-year institutions, about 13 percent of nonpersisting students had completed 75 percent or more of credit threshold, and about 6 percent had reached the 90 percent credit threshold.

At two-year institutions, nearly 22 percent of students who did not earn a degree were at or over the 75 percent threshold and more than 15 percent were at or over the 90 percent threshold.

Colleges and universities have an immediate opportunity to improve graduation outcomes by targeting support services and outreach to near-completer students, according to the report. Many are beginning to recognize this completion gap and are focusing efforts on students who are close to credit completion.

While many institutions focus their efforts to retain students on the critical first semesters of college, leaders at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, focused their intensive advising efforts on students close to finishing their degree. The goal was to ensure that late academic, life, and logistics issues do not take them off track from completion.

“The insight about the importance of the final sprint to completion was an important discovery that led to major improvements in student success at Del Mar College,” says Dr. Mark Escamillia, Del Mar College president.

“By focusing our advising outreach on students who completed 75 percent or more of the credit threshold for a degree, we were able to connect with students at the right moment and ensure they were prepared to cross the finish line, graduate and advance in their career. This approach resulted in a 36% increase in our graduation rates within one year.”

More than 30 million people in the United States have some college credit, but no credential. Roughly one-quarter of Americans with student loan debt from college do not have a degree or certificate. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of households headed by adults under the age of 40 who have only some college credit still owe student debt. The majority–more than 60 percent, according to some estimates–of borrowers who default on their student loans did not graduate.

“That so many students are leaving college in debt but without a degree is troubling enough, yet the problem also poses a potential crisis to the larger workforce and economy,” according to the report. “Lumina Foundation predicts that the United States will require 16.4 million more credentialed learners by 2025 in order to keep pace with workforce demands. Of those, the foundation anticipates that more than one-third will have to be near-completers who return to college to earn their degree.”

“While we know the first semesters are critical for ensuring a student starts strong, the end of the journey can be equally important and challenging. Our research has found that a significant number of these near-completers may actually be in good academic standing and quite close to the ultimate goal of earning a certification or degree,” say Dr. Mark Milliron, Civitas Learning co-founder and chief learning officer.

“Put simply, to significantly improve student success rates, we need to use targeted advising and outreach to ensure that students get a strong finish, as well as a strong start.”

Laura Ascione