It’s early January, which means ‘tis the season to contemplate the previous year and make resolutions for the next. In the education policy world, leaders, advocates, and lawmakers are reflecting on aand gearing up for another eventful year. Academic distress commissions, state report cards, and school funding are . But sitting on the back burner—and gradually creeping toward the front—is the issue of postsecondary attainment.
Four years ago, state leaders banded together to announce Ohio Attainment Goal 2025, a statewide objective for 65 percent of Ohioans between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four to have a degree, certificate, or other postsecondary workforce credential of value in the workplace by 2025. The purpose of the goal is simple: Eliminate the gap between the percentage of Ohio jobs that require postsecondary education and the percentage of working-age adults who have actually earned a degree or certificate. To do this, Ohio would need anadditional adults to earn high-quality postsecondary credentials.
That’s a lofty goal, but Ohio leaders deserve credit for their efforts thus far. Governor DeWine’s administration, in particular, hasto improve Ohio’s attainment numbers. Several of the governor’s proposals—including a $25 million dedicated to helping high school students earn industry-recognized credentials— and into law. And Lieutenant Governor Husted, through events like the , has been spreading the word about the importance of connecting education and the workforce.
But there’s still a lot of work to do, and the dawn of 2020 has brought a new sense of urgency. Ohio is now halfway toward its attainment goal deadline. Over the next five years, it will be vitally important for state lawmakers, business leaders, and institutions of higher education to do everything in their power to boost attainment numbers.
Afrom the (NSC) provides some helpful guidance for how to do that. NSC collects data from over 3,600 postsecondary institutions, a number that covers 97 percent of all postsecondary enrollments in the United States. Last October, NSC released its second in a that takes a closer look at the country’s Some College No Degree (SCND) population.
SCND Americans are exactly what their name suggests—former students who have some postsecondary education but have not yet completed their degree and are no longer enrolled in an institution. In December 2013, the nation’s SCND population totaled 29 million. In the five years since, that number has risen to 36 million, an increase of 22 percent.
As part of their October report, NSC analyzed the 2013 SCND population to determine how many re-enrolled and completed their degree in the following five years. Overall, 3.8 million SCND students returned to postsecondary education and 25 percent of returnees went on to graduate with a degree or certificate, the majority of which were an associate degree or a. An additional 29 percent of re-enrollees were still enrolled as of December 2018. In total, more than half earned, or were working toward earning, a credential.
Ohio’s numbers (see the state data Excel sheet downloadable) are similar to national results. In December 2013, the Buckeye State had a SCND population of almost 1.1 million. In the subsequent five years, nearly 87,000 re-enrolled at an in-state institution and an additional 36,000 re-enrolled elsewhere. Fifty-one percent of these re-enrollees have completed a degree or certificate or were still enrolled as of December 2018.
The NSC report offers an additional—and arguably even more important—analysis. Within the larger SCND population is a smaller group that NSC analysts deem “potential completers.” These former students have finished at least two years’ worth of full-time enrollment over the past ten years. They are typically younger, have attended college more recently, and were more likely to attend multiple institutions than their SCND peers. They were also more likely to re-enroll and complete a credential. Ten percent of the 2018 national SCND population are identified as potential completers., they make up 9 percent of the state’s current 1.3 million SCND adults.
These NSC data points offer two important takeaways for Ohio leaders who care about postsecondary attainment. First, there are over one million adults in Ohio who are already on their way toward earning a credential. NSC data shows that these adults can and do return to postsecondary institutions to complete their degrees, and focusing funding and policy initiatives on helping them would be an effective way to boost attainment numbers. Second, there is a subset of these adults—known as potential completers—who deserve special attention because they are more likely to re-enroll and earn a credential than their peers.
To effectively reach SCND adults, NSC recommends eliminating barriers related to student support services, childcare, credit transfer, class scheduling, financial aid, and other programs. These services are typically designed for traditional college students rather than returning adults, and adult learners have different needs than traditional students who come to campus straight out of high school.
The report also notes that it would be wise for institutions of higher education to consider “joining strategic partnerships within the region or nationally.” In Ohio, there are already a few of these strategic partnerships in place.is to help students with some college credit finish their degrees. offers competency-based courses that can . And the is working with to increase attainment numbers in the Columbus area.
But there’s still plenty left to do. If Ohio’s leaders are serious about meeting Attainment Goal 2025, we need more programs like those listed above. We also need state initiatives to be strategic about reaching Ohio’s sizeable SCND population. If we can get those two things right in 2020, the Buckeye State will be well on its way toward meeting its lofty attainment goal. Most importantly, though, there will be thousands more adults with meaningful postsecondary credentials that could greatly improve their job prospects and quality of life.