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Clearinghouse Report Finds Many Former Students Without a Degree Can Be "Potential Completers"

August 22, 2014

Released late last month, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, Some College, No Degree: A National View of Students with Some College Enrollment, but No Completion, finds that over the last two decades, more than 31 million former college students left without earning a degree or certificate.

The college students are categorized as either one-term enrollees (31.9 percent), multiple-term enrollees with less than two years progress (55.7 percent), or potential completers (multiple term enrollees with two years or more of progress (12.4 percent).

Of the nearly 4 million former students labeled as "potential completers," 35.6 percent were enrolled exclusively at four-year institutions, another 35.6 percent were enrolled exclusively at two-year institutions and 28.8 percent had enrolled in both two- and four-year institutions—indicating that they could have been transfer students, likely from community colleges to four-year institutions.

Although 47.1 percent of potential completers were traditional-age students (23 years old or younger) when they withdrew from school in December 2013, they now represent a slightly older population. Of women potential completers, only 9.7 percent are considered traditional college age, while 44.1 percent are 24 to 29 years old, 27 percent are 30 to 39 years old, and 19.1 percent are 40 or older. Potential completers who are men tend to be slightly younger on average with 10.8 percent younger than 24, 52.9 percent aged 24 to 29 years old, 25 percent aged 30 to 39, and 11.4 percent aged 40 or older.

The largest share of potential completers (45.6 percent) enrolled at just one institution during their time in college, whereas 34 percent enrolled at two different institutions. Fourteen percent of potential completers attended three institutions and a small portion (6.4 percent) attended more than three institutions.

On average, one-third of potential completers spent two to three years between their first and last enrollment. Thirty-six percent spent between four and six years in their enrollment pathway, and 15.4 percent spent seven to nine years between their first and last enrollment before withdrawing altogether.

Not surprisingly, compared to students who completed their programs, potential completers were more likely to have stopped-out between their first and last enrollments. While 40 percent of completers stopped out at least once, potential completers stopped out at a higher rate, nearly 68 percent.

Additional analysis is available on single enrollment students and multiple enrollment students in the full report as well as policy implications.


Natalie Pullaro Davis
Manager, Research and Policy Analysis