Quantifying Potential Completers

by Afet Dundar / Feb 6, 2015

In summer 2014, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center published a report on the “some college, no degree” population (i.e., students who had enrolled in some college courses, but left without receiving a credential). We knew from the very beginning that we did not want this to become another story about students who did not persist or schools that did not serve all their students well. We wanted our report to contribute to both the success of returning students and the national and state initiatives targeting those former students in order to get them back to school and, once all requirements have been completed, award them a degree.

In the report, we focused on students who had made significant progress toward a degree. We wanted to inform policymakers’ efforts through our results by producing data that showed how large this universe of former students was and shed light on the enrollment behaviors these students demonstrated while in school.

What did we find?

Over the last 20 years, 21 million students completed at least two terms of college and exited without any credential. In the last 10 years, about four million students made at least two years’ worth of progress before exiting college. We called these students “potential completers.” Not drop-outs. Not non-persisters. The data told us that potential completers had achieved a lot and perhaps just need another chance to return to school and earn their degree. The size of this population also provided added impetus for us to focus on improving reverse transfer processes, in which associate’s degrees are awarded to students who transfer from a community college to a university once they’ve completed the credit requirements of the degree. You can read more about NSC’s reverse transfer initiatives here.

Shortly after releasing the national report, the Research Center received many inquiries from states asking for state-specific numbers. In response to the demand, we recently released state-specific “some college, no degree” counts, which are available at http://nscresearchcenter.org/signaturereport7/.

Along with these state results, we have one important message to share with states. In these tables, you will find potential waiting to be discovered, that of the “potential completers,” that is.

Afet Dundar is Associate Director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. She plays a leading role in producing the Research Center’s Signature Report series of national reports on student outcomes and an annual High School Benchmarks Report.