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Over the past 20 years, more than 31 million Americans started college, but never walked across the stage to grab a diploma, according to a recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Not earning a degree can prove to be a costly decision. The income of the average bachelor’s degree recipient is more than $16,000 higher than those people who’ve completed some college, but don’t have a degree.
The group’s executive research director, Doug Shapiro, said there’s a growing national push to get more students to finish college–in fact, President Barack Obama wants the United States to have the highest amount of college graduates in the world.
But Shapiro said that won’t happen by strictly focusing on students right out of high school.
Instead, the report’s data points to a group universities should focus on: the nearly four million adults who have completed roughly two years of courses, but have put their education on hold for a handful of reasons.
“They had to take a job to save up more money for tuition,” said Shapiro. “Perhaps they’re stopping out for employment or family reasons or for military service, all sorts of reasons that students will stop out, and then come back on their own, sometimes two or three times.”
The report refers to that group as “potential completers”. Most are under the age of 30 and have been out of college for up to six years.
Shapiro says universities can better connect with those students by streamlining credit transfers or offering flexible classes combining both in-person and online learning geared towards working adults.
This year, the state’s funding formula shifted from being based on the number of students who graduate, instead of the number who enroll.
One state university already credits the funding change as part of the reason why it’s reaching out to former students. Later this summer, Kent State University will try to lure back students who’ve completed at least 90 credits.