Higher education completion is an achievement, a goal or a challenge, depending on a person’s position. People who have achieved this goal are in position to have better job opportunities and greater security than those who have not. For those with some college but no degree there are reasons to look ahead and make college completion part of their game plan.
There is a large population of people who have tried but not completed higher education. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center estimated that during the past 20 years more than 30 million Americans have enrolled in college but left before they completed a certificate or degree. Rather than dropping out of higher education many of them “stopped out,” says Cory Rusin, student success coordinator at Binghamton University. For any number of reasons they left school but now are ready to complete their education. “Their displacement from higher education is not a result of abandonment, but of a change in the direction of their chosen path.” They may have faced a mental or physical health problem, had a lack of financial resources or started a family.
Now, many near-completers are ready to take on higher education completion again; 98 percent of people with some college but no degree express an interest in returning. The DOE reports that almost 40 percent of students are age 25 and older; the National Center of Education Statistics projects the population growth for students age 25 and older to be 5 percent faster than for students under age 25.
Near-completers who go back to school will face challenges such as scheduling work, time with family and time for classes. They may be uncertain about their chances for success as a student. In spite of these realities, near-completers and nontraditional students who are returning to higher education have some advantages that can make them more positive about moving toward completion.
Nontraditional students have developed task-oriented problem solving skills. When nontraditional students handle responsibilities in their work and family lives, they determine an action plan with steps to follow. This skill in developing a plan can help them overcome the added stress of course work, says Marcus Johnson, PhD, at University of Cincinnati. Near completers are more apt to respond with an action plan than the emotional response younger students may have.
Nontraditional students can be very motivated to complete higher education. Students see increased salary and job opportunity as a way to create financial security for their family. Bachelor’s degree completers earn almost $25,000 more per year than people with a high school education, and earn almost $1 million more over their lifetimes. Even associate degree completion will increase earnings up to $4,460 per year.
Education innovations help nontraditional students. Education technology makes many near completers feel positive about their education experience; 60 percent of students believe learning technology helps them achieve higher grades. In addition to the subject matter, many online students believe online learning also helps improve their technology skills; 52 percent of students believe that their improved tech skills make them more employable. Many near completers already have a step toward higher education completion because of their life experience. Students can demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge with competency based education in over 600 programs online and on campus.
Near-completers benefit from programs that help overcome financial obstacles. Employer tuition assistance removes one of the biggest barriers to higher education completion, creating solutions for employers and employees alike.
Higher education completion is important for employers who need skilled and educated employees. The federal completion goal is for 60 percent of people 25-34 years old to earn an associates or bachelor’s degree by 2020. At the current rate that goal will be met in 2041, more than 20 years behind. Lumina Foundation’s goal was for 60 percent of working-age adults to earn a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree by 2025. At the current rate that goal will be reached in 2056, more than 30 years behind.
Students of all ages are enrolling in college, but non-completion remains a problem. “Enrollment is going up, but we don’t see students attaining credentials at the same rate,” says Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for the Lumina Foundation. Tuition assistance is a resource that serves both employees and employers, and plays a vital role in higher education completion.
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