By 2020, President Barack Obama wants the United States to regain its position as the country with the most educated residents. But in the last 20 years, nearly one in every 10 Americans started a college career that they never finished.
They may help account for the gap between the U.S. and the most educated members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2011, 43.1 percent of U.S. residents ages 25 to 64 had completed a degree beyond a high school diploma, while 63.8 percent of Koreans had a post-secondary degree.
But a report from the National Student Clearinghouse released Tuesday argues they can also be an important source of students for colleges and universities trying to close that gap.
The report identified 31 million who have taken college classes, but haven’t completed a degree. Nearly four million of those former students already have two or more years’ worth of credits and could be just a few courses away from an associate’s degree or other credential.
The report (which was funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, an organization that also supports the NewsHour) counted students who enrolled in college courses in the last 20 years, which means many of those 31 million people are unlikely to give college another try.
“In some fields (e.g., nursing) ‘old’ means more than two years. So if one is talking about bringing back students who have been out of school for 20 years, lots of luck,” Cliff Adelman of the Institute for Higher Education Policy told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
By 2020, analysts expect about 65 percent of available jobs in the U.S. to require some education beyond high school. That’s one reason those with some credit, but no degree can’t be overlooked, Dr. Joni Finney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, said in a statement released with Tuesday’s report.
“Ensuring that students who begin college complete their certificate and degree coursework must be a national priority,” she said. “A focus on creating viable educational pathways for these students is imperative if individual states and the nation are to realize higher levels of educational attainment.”
PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.