More Than 40 Million Americans Have Now Attended College Without Earning A Degree


As of July 2021, 40.4 million Americans have attended college but stopped out before earning any credential. That’s a 3.6% increase, equal to 1.4 million more “some college, no credential” (SCNC) students over the prior year. These data come from a new report – Some College, No Credential (SCNC) Student Outcomes: Annual Progress Report – from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The increase in the SCNC population stems from two sources: fewer re-enrollments by previously identified SCNC students and 2.3 million newly identified SCNC students. During academic year 2021/22, nearly 80,000 fewer SCNC students re-enrolled, 7,000 fewer completed a credential within a year, and 23,100 fewer persevered to a second year of re-enrollment than the previous year.

“Growing numbers of stop-outs and fewer returning students have contributed to the broader enrollment declines in recent years,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in its news release. “While our latest enrollment reportsuggests this trend may be stabilizing, it is still uncertain when or how colleges might return to pre-pandemic levels. Today’s report can help states and institutions understand the avenues of success for returning SCNC students and identify areas of opportunity for better supporting their needs.”

The report recommends that states seeking to increase the percentage of adults with a post=secondary credential focus on two subgroups of students who’ve demonstrated better re-enrollment and completion outcomes than the SCNC group overall. Those are potential completers and recent stop-outs. Potential completers have already made at least two years’ worth of academic progress up to their last enrollment in college. Recent stop-outs are newly identified SCNC – those students who have stopped out since the previous SCNC report released in May 2022.

  • About 2.9 million (or 7.3% of the SCNC population) are “potential completers.”
  • About 2.3 million students are in the “recent stop out” group.

The overall annual re-enrollment rate last year for the SCNC group was 864,800 students, a decrease in the rate of ten-enrollment from the prior year from 2.4% to 2.1%, and the credential completion rate within a year of re-enrolling fell from 6.4% to 6.2%. However, both the potential completer and recent stop-out groups were much more likely to re-enroll (6.1% and 9.4%, respectively) and to complete a credential within a year after re-enrolling (11.6% and 7.1%, respectively).

Almost 39% of all re-enrollees returned to the same institution where they last enrolled. Recent stop-outs and potential completers were even more likely to return to the same institution (52.8% and 45.4%, respectively). Across all re-enrollment pathways, students who returned to the community college they last attended made up the largest share (213,500, 24.7%).

Most SCNC students were younger than 35 at the time of their last enrollment. Nearly a quarter (24.6%) of recent stop-outs were under, and 55.6 % of potential completers were in their early 20s. Younger students were also more likely to re-enroll than older SCNS students.

Racial minorities were overrepresented among SCNC students, and women were just slightly more common than men in the group. Latinx and Black students collectively comprised 43% of the total SCNC students who had valid race and ethnicity data, compared to 34.7% among overall undergraduates.

In addition to detailing the SCNC population growth nationally, the report also shows changes in the SCNC population at the state level. Every state saw an increase in the size of its SCNC population, with the largest SCNC numbers occurring in California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida. Delaware (7.9%), Arizona (6.6%), and the District of Columbia (5.6%) saw the largest annual percentage increases in the SCNC population.

About the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

The NSCRC is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse.It collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations to gather accurate longitudinal data that can be used to guide educational policy decisions. NSCRC analyzes data from 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represented 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollment in Title IV degree-granting institutions in the U.S., as of 2020.



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