- Former college students who left before they completed their degrees said free or low-cost tuition, flexible schedules and guaranteed job placements would increase the likelihood of them reenrolling, according to a recent survey.
- The Lumina Foundation, Strada Education Network and Gallup surveyed more than 40,000 stopped-out students, who cited difficulty balancing work and school obligations, financial pressures and life events among their top reasons for leaving college.
- The report's authors urge college leaders and state policymakers to make it easier for adults to complete college coursework while working, as well as to improve their academic and career advising services.
In the U.S., roughly 36 million students have left college without completing a credential, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).
Although this population has largely been overlooked in the past, more colleges are hoping to bring back stopped-out students to stave off enrollment declines and improve their outcomes.
But barriers remain. One of the top reasons students leave — not having enough time for both work and school — is also why many don't return, according to the new survey.
"Educational providers need to acknowledge that a high percentage of their students will be working and going to school — and provide the flexibility to make it possible for these students to do both," the authors write.
To do so, many colleges are adding more online offerings and amping up their support services. Community colleges, in particular, are adopting more proactive advising strategies to help students chart a clear pathway from their education to a career.
The report echoes other recent findings. Earlier this year, the NSCRC recommended colleges tailor their online coursework to adult students' needs and offer credit for their prior work or military experience.
Some colleges are enlisting outside help to reach this population. For example, nearly 40 institutions have contracted with ReUp Education, a company whose service blends automated messaging and human coaches to identify students most likely to reenroll and to support them upon their return.
Other institutions are spinning up their own solutions to bring back students. They may forgive student debt or waive course fees.
Despite some of these trends, part-time and adult students still aren't "receiving the support they need to succeed as learners," Marie Cini, president for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, wrote in an op-ed for Education Dive this fall. She recommends colleges develop more short-term and flexible courses that students can fit into "an already busy life."
Being aware of stopped-out students' educational preferences is also key to bringing them back, the report's authors note. Respondents across all age groups indicated they would most likely reenroll in college through their employers, followed by community colleges.
To that end, large companies, including Walmart and Chipotle, are adding heavily discounted or free tuition programs to their benefits packages and orienting them around skills needs within their workforce. When employers seek out a college partner to offer tuition benefits, they often are looking for online options and evidence that their employees will see an economic payoff from the new credential or training experience, sources told Education Dive earlier this year.