Some College and No Degree

How individuals who attend and don’t graduate feel about education

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In a collaborative study of more than 40,000 Americans who started attending college, but did not finish with a degree, this report from Strada Education Network, Lumina Foundation and Gallup Research provides insights into the reasons they stopped out of college, and what could help them return.

Key Findings

Based on the responses of 42,190 adults ages 25-64 with some college, but no degree and who are not currently enrolled, the report’s key findings include:

The most common reason cited for stopping out was difficulty balancing school and work at the same time.


The factors that would have the most impact on getting this population to re-enroll include affordability, schedule flexibility and a guaranteed employment outcome connected to further education.


Better experiences with higher-quality academic and career advising are linked with completion. Students need to see how their education connects to a purpose.


Younger people, people of color and those who are working in certain occupations, such as food preparation, are more likely to say they will enroll in additional courses or training.


Employers are identified as the most likely pathway for individuals across all demographic breakdowns of those with some college, no degree to enroll in additional courses or training. Strategies to meet educational attainment goals will be more effective as they integrate employers.

More than 31 million students over the last 20 years have enrolled in college but left without receiving a degree or certificate.

Many states have made a priority of drawing this “some-college, no-degree” group back to school in their plans for boosting the educational attainment of their population. A number of state policies focus on re-enrolling adults with some college, no degree, but these policies are often broadly stated and could improve their impact with additional understanding of this population. There is a wide range of experience in terms of when the population stopped out, where they had previously been enrolled, and their current income and employment status. Understanding why people stopped out is key both to re-enrolling as well as increasing retention and preventing future stop-outs.

Strada Education Network, Lumina Foundation and Gallup collaborated on this report as part of a larger series of reports on adults without degrees. It provides firsthand, subjective perspectives of more than 40,000 individuals who stopped out of college before completing their degree. It is informed by data and insights from the Strada-Gallup Education Survey, an unprecedented telephone survey of more than 340,000 U.S. adults ages 18–65 that explores their educational experiences and attitudes.

Based on their responses, the report ultimately concludes that to be most effective in meeting the interests and circumstances of individuals who have attended college but did not graduate, state policymakers and institutions of higher education must include employers in solutions, reducing friction between learning and earning. Learner confidence in the connection between pursuing education and realizing a desired work outcome is also a vital factor in meeting the aspirations of these individuals.

When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials.


Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.

Download the Report

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