From Enrollment to Employment: The Economic Returns of Degree Completion

February 26, 2024

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Title: College Completion and Earnings: Including Noncompleters in Accountability Policies

Authors: Jason Delisle and Jason Cohn

Source: The Urban Institute

The Urban Institute’s recent report, College Completion and Earnings: Including Noncompleters in Accountability Policies, delves into the issue of factoring students with some college but no degree into post-college earnings data analysis.

The report advocates for accountability measures that acknowledge the full range of student experiences, pathways, and outcomes. By tracking all enrollees’ outcomes, not just graduates, institutions can pinpoint areas for improvement in supporting students to completion.

Using College Scorecard undergraduate earnings data, the authors compare earnings across full entry cohorts with earnings for those who complete their credentials. The authors found that earnings figures are usually lower when including noncompleters. The largest gaps occur at for-profit bachelor’s institutions and community colleges, where median earnings drop $17,000 and $8,000, respectively, when noncompleters are included.

The analysis makes a compelling case that excluding noncompleters creates accountability blind spots and the incomplete data undermines the ability to assess program efficacy and value. The authors argue that government aid is provided to all students regardless of whether they complete, so measuring outcomes for and education’s impact on all students is vital for determining if programs deliver on their promises.

While complex, the Urban Institute’s analysis provides a roadmap for how leaders can embrace data on noncompleters, confront challenges, and harness evidence to enhance student success and contribute to a more equitable education system driving achievement for all.

To read the full report, click here.

—C. Emmanuel Wright

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