The landscape of higher education is shifting. While enrollment trends remain crucial matter to sustained financial success, a spotlight is being cast on a growing population: adults with unfinished degrees. In 2024, expect higher education institutions to pivot, prioritizing degree completion and addressing the millions with stalled academic journeys.

The Unfinished Degree Dilemma

An estimated 39 million Americans have started but not completed a 2-year or 4-year degree. That’s 15% of the adult population carrying the weight of unrealized potential (Strada Education Network). But 47% of those with unfinished associate degrees and 22% with unfinished bachelor’s degrees are unlikely to return to school. This creates a significant skills gap and an untapped talent pool (National Center for Education Statistics).

" 74% of adults with unfinished degrees say they would like to complete them, if barriers were addressed. "

(Strada Education Network)

Focus on Degree Completion

Completing a degree can significantly boost student earning potential. An unfinished bachelor’s degree already increases average annual income by $12,000 compared to a high school diploma. Finishing it could further bridge the economic divide (Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce). Unfinished degrees are disproportionately concentrated among low-income, minority, and first-generation students. Completion initiatives create fairer access to career opportunities and social mobility.

And as automation and globalization reshape the workforce, a skilled and educated population is crucial. Completing degrees fills critical job openings and drives innovation.

Your Marketing Plan Should Embrace these Messages

Expect a surge in online, hybrid, and accelerated programs catering to working adults and diverse schedules. Micro-credentials and stackable credentials will offer bite-sized learning opportunities to build towards a degree.

Describe scholarships and grant opportunities specifically aimed at re-enrolling students. Partnerships with employers and community organizations could further ease financial burdens.

Success coaches, career counselors, and academic advisors will play a crucial role, guiding students through re-entry, navigating transfer credits, and addressing individual needs.

Recognizing the challenges adults face, institutions that integrate mental health resources and support systems to aid academic success and overall well-being will be most successful.

2024 Marks a Turning Point

In 2024, higher education’s evolution beyond enrollment numbers is inevitable. By focusing on degree completion, institutions can unlock the potential of millions, boost the economy, and create a more skilled and equitable workforce. This is not just a trend; it’s a turning point for the future of education and opportunity.

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