To understand the economic impact of degree completion programs, go for a walk in the woods. Every forest has some taller, more established trees with deep roots and wide branches. Nothing stands between these taller trees and the sun when the weather is good. During droughts, their roots can pull water from deep underground. In a storm, these established trees sway but stand tall.
All around them, smaller trees are lashed by the wind, their leaves quickly stripped away. These less established trees get less sunlight and can’t yet reach the deep groundwater. In good weather, they don’t benefit quite as much, and they feel the effects of bad weather more strongly.
Just like the smaller trees, people with some college but no degree experience an outsized impact in unfavorable economic weather.
The Economic Impact of Degree Completion Programs
From 2019 to 2021, median weekly earnings rose for people with all levels of educational attainment. But, people with bachelor’s degrees and above out-earned those with some college and no degree.
The difference isn’t small, either. Median weekly earnings for a bachelor’s degree holder were $1574 in 2021, compared to just $899 per week for those with some college and no degree. In short, workers with a Bachelor’s degree earned $435 more per week!
That’s not all. People with some college have an average unemployment rate of 3.1% compared to people with a bachelor’s degree or higher who have a rate of just 2.1%. That gap will likely widen over the next decade. Between 2021 and 2031, people with a bachelor’s degree are projected to experience an 8.8% employment increase. During the same timeframe, employment rates for people with some college and no degree are expected to rise by just 0.8%.
Getting students enrolled in degree completion programs positions them to earn higher wages, avoid unemployment, and find better jobs. When the economy stumbles, they’ll have the tools to keep their balance. When things get better, they’ll be able to capitalize on that too.
Who Benefits Most from Degree Completion Programs
Any arborist knows that diversity is good for the forest. So it’s particularly concerning to realize that Black, Latinx, and Native American learners make up a disproportionate number of some college, no credential students. At the same time, workers who are Black or Hispanic have the highest unemployment rates.
Giving Black, Latinx, and Native American students the opportunity to finish their degrees is more than a way for colleges to increase graduation rates. Degree completion programs are a powerful tool for bringing more diversity into colleges and the workforce.
Affordable Solutions Can Bring Students Back to College
Despite the positive economic impact of getting a degree, more than 39 million students stop-out before completing their credentials. For many students, the reason comes down to cost. In fact, 98% of families say they’ll need financial aid to pay for college.
Among students who stop-out, 42% say they left for financial reasons. As the cost of college continues to rise, degree completion programs can make college more accessible by:
- Accepting transfer credits
- Offering certificates and stackable credentials
- Connecting students with financial aid
- Accepting non-traditional credits
These efforts can help stopped-out students finish what they started and encourage growth, both for the students and the colleges that enroll them.
For more insights into the education landscape, download the Survey of the Higher Education Landscape: Opportunities for Overcoming Enrollment Headwinds in 2022. It explores the economic, demographic, and social shifts impacting institutions of higher ed today.