In a new study, we found that 31 million students enrolled in college during the past 20 years left without receiving a degree or certificate.
The study noted a group of “potential completers,” students with no degree or certificate, but who had completed two or more years of academic work. These “potential completers” represent nearly four million of the 21 million former students who had more than a single term of enrollment.
Of the “potential completers”, most have already made significant progress to a two- or four-year degree or certificate. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters were under the age of 30 when they last enrolled. About half of them attended a single institution, while another third attended two institutions. These students represent an untapped reservoir of educational capital that can increase education attainment in the short-term.
A greater challenge is re-entry students, those who have two or more enrollment records, called “multiple-term enrollees.” Of the “potential completers” who enrolled in multiple terms, one-third began and ended their postsecondary enrollments within a year.
Of all potential completers, a little over one-third attended exclusively two-year institutions and a similar proportion attended exclusively four-year institutions while about 29% attended both two- and four-year institutions. Furthermore, of potential college completers, 17% have seven or more years since their last enrollment. For those over 30 years of age, the figure is 25%.
In what ways are clear educational pathways making a difference in college completion efforts? To what extent does college preparation and affordability explain non-completion rates for potential completers? What types of transfer pathways make a difference in college completion? How have colleges and universities accommodated adult students to help them complete their degrees?
As you can see, the study raises important questions to guide further research about college completion.