Academic and Employment Profiles of Adults with Some College but No Degree

Nationwide, there are 36 million “SCND” (some college, no degree) adults (Shapiro et al, 2019). The evidence we provide in this study can assist efforts to increase re-enrollment and completion among adults by: (1) informing the types of interventions and outreach to be directed at students; and (2) more efficiently targeting the students for whom the benefits of earning a credential is the highest.r

The Problem

  • In 2020, 65% of American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education; however, the current attainment level is 48% (Lumina Foundation, 2019). This gap cannot be closed solely by increasing college enrollment and completion among traditionally-aged students.
  • There has been a strong policy shift toward increasing credential attainment, particularly among adults who have completed some college credits but withdrew prior to completing a degree.

There are 36 million “SCND” (some college, no degree) adults nationwide.

Deep Dive into the Data

  • The context of our study is the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), consisting of 23 community colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and enrolling over 200,000 students per year.
  • We define our SCND population as students who: experienced an enrollment “break” from VCCS for at least three years; earned at least 30 credits from a VCCS college; had a GPA of 2.0 or higher at the time they left VCCS; and last enrolled at VCCS prior to break between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014.
  • We use detailed administrative records from various sources to provide a descriptive profile of the SCND population, including their background characteristics, academic experiences, and employment outcomes trends both pre and post break.
  • We use regression analysis to estimate gaps between SCND and similar graduates in post-VCCS employment outcomes.

The Innovation

We believe the results will assist us in:

  • Increasing student success supports for SCND students when they first re-enroll in college.
  • Targeting re-enrollment efforts on SCND students for whom the labor market benefit of returning to obtain a degree is most apparent.
  • Targeting SCND students who have experienced flat or declining wages after leaving VCCS, and who may perceive greater value in obtaining additional training and a credential.
  • Targeting SCND students who performed well academically for most of their time at VCCS, but experience a negative academic shock immediately before they withdrew from VCCS.

The Results

  • Reenrollment Behavior: Nearly half of all students who meet our sample criteria enroll at a non-VCCS institution within three years their break with VCCS; indicating a sizeable share of students leaving VCCS without a degree and continuing their education elsewhere. For this reason, we focus most of our analyses  on students who did not enroll anywhere within three years of leaving VCCS.
  • Academic Experiences: On average, and conditional on students earning at least 30 credits, SCND students with some college, but no degree earn 48 credits from VCCS before their departure. Additionally, SCND students end at VCCS with a GPA of 2.86, but earned only a 2.33 in their last term. Roughly 20% of students did not earn any credits during their final semester.
  • SCND vs. Graduate Gaps in Employment Outcomes: In the fourth year following their break from VCCS, SCND students are three percentage points less likely to be employed at all; earn $500 less per quarter; and are four percentage points less likely to earn above the 200% federal poverty levels compared to otherwise similar graduates.

The Project Team

Ben Castleman,
Founder and Director, Nudge4
Kelli Bird,
Research Director

Catherine Finnegan, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Institutional Effectiveness

Our Funders