Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining the aspects of recruitment, enrollment, and retention on U.S. campuses. Check back each Monday for a different look at some of the challenges–and successes–found in higher education today. Next week, we’ll examine data’s role in improving student retention and outcomes.
The number of former students who stopped out without earning a credential—often referred to as the “some college, no credential (SCNC) population—rose 3.6 percent from las year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. In addition, fewer SCNC students returned and completed a credential. These two developments highlight an increasingly missed opportunity for states and institutions to reengage SCNC students.
The findings from Some College, No Credential (SCNC) Student Outcomes: Annual Progress Report found that between July 2020 and July 2021, the U.S. added 1.4 million more SCNC students, making the SCNC population now 40.4 million (July 2021), up from 39.0 million a year earlier. All 50 states and D.C. experienced growth.
This increase in the SCNC population is due to a lack of re-enrollment among the 39 million previously identified SCNC and 2.3 million newly identified SCNC students. During academic year 2021-2022, nearly 80,000 fewer SCNC students re-enrolled, 7,000 fewer completed a credential within a year, and 23,100 fewer persevered to a second year of re-enrollment than the previous year.
“Growing numbers of stop-outs and fewer returning students have contributed to the broader enrollment declines in recent years,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “While our latest enrollment report suggests this trend may be stabilizing, it is still uncertain when or how colleges might return to pre-pandemic levels. Today’s report can help states and institutions understand the avenues of success for returning SCNC students and identify areas of opportunity for better supporting their needs.”
Two subgroups of students identified demonstrate promising re-enrollment and completion outcomes and may serve as a basis for further examination by states and institutions. Those are potential completers and recent stop-outs. Potential completers have already made at least two years’ worth of academic progress up until the last enrollment. Recent stop-outs are newly identified SCNC students this year, having stopped out since the previous SCNC report released in May 2022.
In addition to detailing the SCNC population growth nationally and in each state, the report shows the annual re-enrollment and completion outcomes among SCNC students and those who persevered beyond their first year of re-enrollment. The report highlights include:
- Approximately 2.9 million (or 7.3 percent of the SCNC population) are “potential completers” who have already made at least two years’ worth of academic progress up until their last enrollment.
- Most SCNC students were younger than 35 at the last enrollment. Potential completers and recent stop-outs were relatively younger, with nearly a quarter of recent stop-outs under 20 (24.6 percent) and potential completers primarily in their early 20s (55.6 percent).
- Community colleges are the most common type of institution of last enrollment, re-enrollment, and first credential attainment for SCNC students.
- Compared to the previous year, fewer SCNC students re-enrolled (864,800, -8.4 percent), earned a credential within one year after re-enrolling (53,300, -11.8 percent), or persevered into their second year of re-enrollment (508,700, -4.3 percent). The overall annual re-enrollment rate fell from 2.4 percent to 2.1 percent, and the completion rate within a year of re-enrolling fell from 6.4 to 6.2 percent.
- Potential completers and recent stop-outs were more likely to re-enroll (6.1 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively) and to complete a credential within a year after re-enrolling (11.6 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively).
- All regions experienced declines in completers within a year of re-enrolling, though 11 states saw slight growth. Short-term certificate earners increased more than associate and bachelor’s degree earners, with certificates accounting for 42.1 percent of all completers (up 7.1 points from a year ago). Certificates are most prevalent in the Midwest (50.6 percent), while bachelor’s degrees are prevalent in the Northeast (43.8 percent).
- When we track over a two-year period after re-enrolling, 15.4 percent or 145,900 of the 944,200 re-enrollees in academic year 2020/21 earned their first-ever credential: 6.4 percent (60,500) earned in their first year of re-enrollment and 9.0 percent (85,400) in their second year of re-enrollment.
- Black SCNC students were less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within one year of re-enrolling (22.8 percent of Black completers) compared to the national average of 25.7 percent. However, the gap disappeared for potential completers, with the share of bachelor’s degree earners among all Black completers on par with the national average (38.4 percent vs. 38.8 percent).
Nearly all states (45) currently have a post-high school attainment goal to improve the average education levels of their residents and develop a highly educated workforce. The Some College, No Credential Student Outcomes report, made possible with support from Lumina Foundation, is an important resource to help states identify the level of opportunity for re-engaging SCNC students in the post-high school attainment pipeline.
This press release originally appeared online.