New Report Shows Increasing Number of Adults with Some College but No Degree

Lumina Foundation released its annual report on national, state, and metro postsecondary attainment trends last week. While the overall news on attainment is positive, with the largest year-over-year increase in overall attainment since 2008 (now up to 39.4 percent of adults), the key metrics for adult learners are a mixed bag. This blog post takes a deeper look at the Stronger Nation report focusing on the implications for those working on adult degree completion programs.

As part of the effort to reach Goal 2025 (with 60 percent of the working-age population having a degree or high-value postsecondary certificate), Lumina established several intermediate goals to track progress in 2012. One of the key measures for our work here is the goal of reducing by 800,000 the number of adults who fall into the “some college, no degree” category.

The baseline in 2012 found 36.3 million adults in this category, while in 2013, the figure rose to 36.4 million. While one year does not a trend make, this shows that those working to serve this population will have to make significant progress over the next two years to meet the target of reducing this number to 35.5 million by 2016.


  Adults (25-64) with
  "some college, no degree"

 2012  36.3 million
2013 36.4 million
2014 36 million
2016 35.5 million

While this increase could be due to an increased number of college stopouts, it does suggest that programs working to reach adults with prior college credit and provide them with pathways to degrees and certificates still have substantial work left to do.

Another intermediate goal focuses on adult degree completion rates. While the data for this measure track age at first entry into postsecondary education and wouldn’t necessarily capture those adults returning to complete a degree, the 2013 figure does show some progress. It has risen to 43.5 percent from 42 percent in 2012 and is within range of meeting the 2016 target of 48 percent. Whether this measure is a reasonable proxy for completion rates for all returning adults awaits further research, but this could be a sign that institutions are doing better at serving adult learners.

Additional years of data will help us understand whether these outcomes are the beginning of a trend. But the bottom line is that the Stronger Nation report shows that much work remains to be done to increase adult college completion.


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