Each year, thousands of students begin their college journeys, but many are unable to cross the finish line and complete their degree or credential. Many of these students invest time, energy, and resources to earn a significant number of credits, but various hurdles cause them to pause their studies, or stop-out, before obtaining their degree.
Life takes millions away from school
These challenges can include personal health problems, family and work obligations and financial hardship. These personal and financial barriers can disproportionately affect students of color, low-income students and first-generation students.
If this sounds like your experience, you’re not alone. Those thousands of stopped-out students have added up to 35 million Americans, or one in five adults aged 25 years or older, with “some college, but no degree.”
No greater reward than in re-enrolling
A college education is an impressive investment and completing a postsecondary credential can be incredibly challenging, but it can be extraordinarily rewarding. For students considering going back to college, re-enrolling and getting back on track to graduate may seem daunting. But now returning to school has never been more important. There are many opportunities to re-enroll and complete your degree.
We know that obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree leads to higher-paying jobs and greater economic mobility, and we know that the value of a college degree will only continue to rise. It’s estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential. Not only does this matter for workers and their families, it also means that state and federal governments will benefit from more educated workers against a competitive, 21st-century economy.
Private and public sectors join forces
The Institute for Higher Education Policy understands the personal and financial benefits of a college education for individuals and families. That’s why we’re working with institutions to build partnerships and develop equity-driven solutions that help students with some college, but no degree, cross the completion finish line. IHEP’s initiative, Project Win-Win, helped colleges re-enroll stopped out students, and Credit When It’s Due, helped colleges identify students who had earned enough credits to receive a degree but never got one. In total, these strategies helped colleges and universities award 20,000 new associate’s degrees.
Recognizing the high stakes for state economies, 41 states have created ambitious attainment goals, often accompanied by policies aimed at re-engaging and investing in students like you. Many of these states have established robust re-engagement plans and developed new programs that make re-enrollment easier than ever. For example, Indiana’s ““You Can. Go Back.” program eliminates barriers to re-enroll in classes and transfer earned credits, awards college credit for prior work experience, offers forgiveness programs for student debt incurred and poor grades received during a student’s first experience with college, and provides grant funding specifically for returning students.
While returning to school can be incredibly challenging, support for stopped-out students has never been stronger. States have new programs to make re-enrolling easier, and institutions and organizations like IHEP are working together to scale innovative strategies that re-engage and support students who have stopped-out. If you’re ready to return to college, reach out to your college and university advising offices to see what supports they offer to help students re-enroll and get back on track towards completion. For the millions of Americans who have some college but no degree, now is the perfect time to go back to college, complete your degree, and reap the full economic and personal benefits of your investment.
Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., President, Institute for Higher Education Policy, [email protected]