Number of ‘Some College, No Degree’ Students Grows Again: Report

The number of students who completed some college but earned no credential grew by 3.6% from July 2021 to July 2022. However, over 943,000 students reenrolled in college in the 2022-23 academic year.
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Published on June 14, 2024
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  • A study found that almost 42 million students nationwide have completed some college but earned no credential as of July 2022.
  • Men and Hispanic, Black, and Native American populations are overrepresented in the some college, no credential (SCNC) cohort.
  • The only institutions that retained more students than the previous year were public two-year schools and bachelor's degree-granting institutions that primarily offer associate programs.
  • Primarily online institutions were one of the more popular places for students to reenroll. However, these institutions yielded the lowest graduation rates.

The number of people going to college but stopping before earning a credential is growing, according to a new report.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released the 2024 Some College, No Credential (SCNC) study, which found that more students aren't completing college. The total number of SCNCs grew nationwide by 3.6% from 40.4 million in July 2021 to 41.9 million in July 2022.

Despite a growing stop-out population, over 943,000 SCNC students reenrolled in college during the 2022-23 academic year — up 9.1% from the previous year. Also in 2022-23, more than 134,800 former SCNCs earned their first credential, according to the report.

It is encouraging to see an increase in the number of students reenrolling this year, largely reversing the decline that we observed in last year's report, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Executive Director Doug Shapiro said in a press release.

Higher education regularly generates more students leaving school without a credential than returning to finish one, however, which is both a persistent challenge and a continuing opportunity for the system to improve and grow.

Students who stopped going to college between January 2021 and July 2022 (identified as recent stopouts in the report) make up about 6% of the SCNC population.

Of all institutions, the rate of recent stopouts was highest at private for-profit four-year institutions, with primarily online programs coming in a close second.

Many for-profit institutions have been accused of predatory marketing and recruitment tactics, especially against Black prospective students.

The only institutions that actually retained more students than the previous year were public two-year schools and baccalaureate institutions that primarily offer associate degrees, according to the SCNC report.

Of the students who reenrolled at different institutions than where they started,135,600 started again at primarily online institutions (POIs). However, students reenrolling at POIs had the lowest first-year credential-earning rate of 2.2% for both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

The group most likely to earn a credential are SCNCs who completed at least two years of college and reenrolled. These students are almost twice as likely to earn a credential than those who complete less college. They also earn more associate and bachelor's degrees within two years.

According to the study, men and Hispanic, Black, and Native American students are disproportionately represented among the SCNC population, compared to the total undergraduate population.

Black students comprised 14% of the total undergraduate population in July 2022 but make up about 19% of the SCNC population. Similarly, Hispanic students comprise more of the SCNC population (24.4%) than the total undergraduate population (21.5%).

The UCLA Civil Rights Project found last year that bachelor's degrees at California's community colleges can help close racial equity gaps.

California's initial community college baccalaureate programs show promise and could be the right tool for establishing an accessible, affordable, place-bound public pathway toward baccalaureate attainment and social and economic mobility, report co-author Marcela G. Cuéllar, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, said in a press release.

Education leaders and policymakers need to act to meet the needs of our students and state.

Men also make up 51.8% of the SCNC population while only making up 42.3% of the undergraduate population. However, recent stop-out students — those who left college between January 2021 and July 2022 — are more likely to be women.

Women and white and Asian students who reenroll are more likely to complete a credential in a year or enter their second year of enrollment.

The fact that students from historically underrepresented groups are overrepresented among SCNC students means that reengaging these students can be an important means of ensuring that the population that holds postsecondary credentials looks like the population of the nation writ large, the study reads.

Unfortunately, the data in this report suggests that while the SCNC students who reenroll in higher education reflect the diversity of the SCNC population, institutions will need to engage in additional work to ensure that these reenrollees ultimately earn a credential.