4 minute read

“Some College, No Degree”: Engaging Former Students

3/15/2022 8:00 PM

The growing awareness in higher education of the $6.6 billion in stranded credits has brought to light related issues of enrollment, debt, and administrative processes and policies. The attention highlights a similar situation, what some have called “some college, no degree.”

While stranded credits describes the situation of students with unpaid balances and transcript holds that have not completed their degree, “some college, no degree” describes those without unpaid balances or transcript holds that have not completed their degree. They have obtained some credits but have discontinued their education before graduating

In 2019, the no-longer enrolled population was estimated at 36 million, and the number increased significantly during the pandemic. This trend, combined with a decrease in high school students attending college, has created a 8% decrease in overall undergraduate enrollment since Fall 2019 and a 15% decrease in community college enrollment in particular. Engaging students who are no longer enrolled is a key strategy for institutions seeking to increase enrollment and revenue.

Reaching Out

The first step is to reach out to former students to understand why they left and what would bring them back. There are a growing number of models to follow. The California State University system has started a campaign to engage students who had recently stopped their enrollment, including those with stranded credits. A group of 25 institutions partnered with a third party to re-enroll thousands of students over the previous few years.

Because so many colleges and universities are engaging former students to re-enroll them, best practices for outreach are emerging, especially strategies for engaging adult students (age 20 and older). New research discovered two important parts of any institution’s strategy for engaging and bringing back students:

  • The likelihood of re-enrolling decreases every year someone is out of higher education
  • When asked about the reasons for stopping their education, former students’ top answer was financial reasons

Luckily, there are solutions available to help address some of the financial challenges of these students that can be implemented at institutions of all types.

Payment Plans and Tuition Insurance

Payment plans provide a way to ease the financial complications that lead to students discontinuing their education. Rather than paying the entirety of a semester’s tuition all at once, payment plans provide students with the ability to pay in installments. A large financial burden is reduced into a manageable form, helping students who are juggling the cost of education with the cost of supporting themselves, their family, and other fiscal obligations.

Administrators can create, manage, and enroll students in installment plans that fit the needs of students and the institution. And if emergencies and special circumstances arise, administrators have the flexibility to waive fees, offer extensions, and make other adjustments as needed. Integrated into ERP systems, payment plans communicate with the registrar’s office and other key departments on campus. The solution also sends reminders and notifications to students, keeping them aware and on schedule with their payments.

In addition to payment plans, tuition insurance can provide a refund for deposits, academic fees, housing and tuition when a student completes an unexpected withdrawal due to medical conditions and other issues, depending on the institution’s withdrawal policy and the insurance policy’s coverage.

This helps protect a student’s investment in higher education and thereby encourages them to return to their education. For students close to completing their degree, tuition insurance also promotes increased graduation rates by helping students afford the cost of an extra semester.

Depending on the carrier, tuition insurance programs also help reduce financial costs to schools for providing refunds and administering appeals processes. By relying on a third party to review withdrawals, schools can transfer both the risk and cost to the carrier. In addition, schools can reduce difficult collections issues from students who are forced to withdraw.

Serving Students’ Goals and Institutions’ Missions

There’s a saying in higher education, the most expensive degrees are those never obtained. Gaining a college degree provides a significant wage premium; it is an investment that pays off. But if you attend some college but do not obtain a degree, you have spent money on higher education without the full return on that investment.

Colleges and universities face a similar situation. Unenrolled students represent a sunk cost as institutions have spent resources to educate them but did not achieve the goal of graduating and helping them accomplish personal and professional goals.

In an era where enrollment is declining for a number of reasons, re-enrolling former students is an important aspect of any college or university’s strategic enrollment management plan. Providing payment plans and tuition insurance can help relieve some of the financial challenges and encourage re-enrollment. Keeping students moving toward graduation bolsters an institution’s bottom line, and fulfills their mission.