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More than 39 million people in the United States have started college but left without a postsecondary credential as of July 2020, according to recently released data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The number of people the Research Center calls “Some College No Credential” (SCNC) increased by 3.1 million from nearly 36 million it previously reported in 2019, according to the latest data released May 10 by the Research Center.

California, Texas, New York, and Illinois combined account for more than a third of the nation’s SCNC individuals. Arizona encountered the steepest net increase with more than 86,400 SCNC students. Only Nebraska and Connecticut did not experience any net growth in SCNC individuals out of all the states.

New Jersey’s SCNC number is 766,459 and represents about 2.1% of the national total, according to the Research Center’s data.

The report, Some College, No Credential Student Outcomes Annual Progress Report – Academic Year 2020/21, found that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 944,000 SCNC Americans aged 18 to 64 re-enrolled during the academic year 2020-21. Over 60,000 earned their first-ever postsecondary credential, including more than 18,000 bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, 61.1% of those who re-enrolled in 2019-20 either persevered into the second year or attained a credential within a year of re-enrolling.

“These outcomes indicate the scale of opportunity that the SCNC population represents for efforts to raise the level of postsecondary education attainment in the U.S.,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“Moreover, at a time when most colleges are still reeling from historic enrollment declines during the pandemic, the continued health of higher education institutions, and their ability to meet the needs of future students, may depend on their success at re-engaging SCNC learners,” Shapiro said.

Low student success rates are widespread in American higher education. More than 25% of college freshmen do not return for their second year, including 41% of those who started at a community college, the Research Center said. The nation’s six-year completion rate is 62.2%, as of January 2022.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Black, Latinx, and Native American learners are over-represented among the SCNC population, relative to their shares of currently enrolled undergraduate students.
  • Although California, Texas, New York, and Illinois account for more than a third of the nation’s SCNC students, Alaska shows the largest number of SCNC students per 1,000 currently enrolled undergraduates.
  • SCNC students who left multi-state institutions or primarily online institutions showed the second fastest rate of net growth and increase of more than 315,000 or 13.7%.
  • During the academic year 2020-21, 944,200 SCNC students re-enrolled and 60,400 earned their first-ever postsecondary credential. An additional 531,700 students were still enrolled after re-enrolling the previous year.
  • 70% of the 60,400 completers obtained their credential from a public institution, either two- or four-year.
  • Private, nonprofit four-year institutions had the highest perseverance rates, 64.8%, while community colleges had the lowest, 50.2%.
  • Women outnumbered men in re-enrollment, credential earning, and perseverance. The share of re-enrollees among minority women was substantially higher than men: 63.5% versus 34.6%.
  • Associate degrees were the most common credential earned by Latinx students (42.5%). Black students were most likely to have completed a certificate (42.7%). Asian and white students persevered at rates higher than other groups (61.2% and 57.6%, respectively) compared to Latinx (55.0%), Black (51.4%), and Native American (51.1%) students.