From Terri Taylor, Lumina's Strategy Director for Innovation & Discovery
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What we’ve learned about getting ‘some college, no credential’ students back

Promoting and accelerating bachelor’s attainment is an important component of Lumina’s current strategic plan. After all, as the U.S. Census Bureau recently explained, “Bachelor’s degrees are important marks of progress for both individuals and society . . . individuals who hold a bachelor's degree or higher have higher lifetime earnings, lower odds of unemployment, and better health outcomes.” And we are on a positive trajectory: Bachelor’s attainment grew by 16.6 percent from 2009–19 (from 27.5 to 32.1 percent). Growth was even faster for certain equity populations, with Black populations increasing 25.4 percent, Hispanic/Latino 30.3 percent, and American Indian/Alaska Native 17 percent.

Terri Taylor

Lumina's Strategy Director for Innovation & Discovery

But we can’t build on these numbers if students don’t enter bachelor’s programs in the first place, whether as first-time or returning students. Over the last two years, Lumina’s work in this area has focused on the more than 40 million people with some college but no credential. After several years of work to elevate adult learners, we have learned that these students are not, as once assumed, “low hanging fruit.” Often they had to stop programs for good reason and face hidden barriers and complex systems if they do seek to re-enroll.

Over the past two years, through partnerships with several organizations that reached 78 unique public institutions in 18 states, we learned many important lessons and supported several new resources on designing better strategies for (re)enrollment that we’re pleased to share through this newsletter.

We’re also pleased to welcome a new strategy director for participation, Melanie Heath, who will be leading this work moving forward. We are also hiring for two strategy offers for the Bachelor’s Attainment team, one focused on participation and another on student success.

New resources

Behavioral science interventions to promote (re)enrollment of adults

About 20 percent of American adults want to (re)enroll in the next two years, but many never do. Over the past few years, we’ve worked with ideas42 to review adult-focused outreach strategies, provide ‘secret shopper’ feedback to institutions, and develop actionable guidance for institutions and systems across the country. Resources include the Adult (re)Enrollment Design Guide which identifies common behavioral barriers faced by potential adult learners and provides 35 design ideas for addressing them. 

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Equity-focused systems change in enrollment

Based on a yearlong process to engage constituents throughout the higher education community, This report recommends a series of actions for admission and financial aid practitioners, educational institutions, and state and federal agencies and policymakers. And it urges deeper study of barriers to entry to post-high school education for adult students of color, particularly Black students. 

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Understanding adult learner intent

Though many see adults as a key growth population for enrollment, very little research has been done at the national and state level to understand adult learner motivations and preferences before they enroll. Avoiding the Demographic Cliff uses evidence from 150,000 unique surveys of adults to dismantle systemic biases about who wants to access higher education, with insights related to age, gender, race/ethnicity, income, geography, prior education, and program preferences.

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More from our partners

Ohio College Comeback removes barriers to re-enrollment

The Ohio College Comeback has a new approach to resolving students’ unpaid balances, providing new financial and advising support (including pathways for transfer), and addressing institutions’ own financial interest . Ithaka is currently recruiting new sites for similar programs so please get in touch if you’re a state, system, or institutional consortium.

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Leveraging Behavioral Science to Help Families Build Savings

In the first student-level study of transcript holds, AACRAO found that 370,754 different holds affected 126,500 students in just two academic years. At these 14 institutions alone, 558 hold codes were in use. And more than half of holds were placed by someone other than the bursar, registrar, or financial aid office. These findings show that institutions must change their policies for their students to succeed.

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