Non-first-time students a fix for decreasing enrollment?

More than 2.5 million adult learners who re-entered higher ed between 2005 and 2008 have not completed a degree

The number of Americans age 18 to 21, the traditional college age, has decreased by nearly 700,000 since 2011—from 18.1 to 17.4 million—according to research from the University of Virginia. With this decline, many colleges could turn to older non-first-time students to maintain enrollment numbers and financial goals.

Yet, more than 2.5 million adult learners who re-entered higher ed between 2005 and 2008 have not completed a degree, according to a new study released by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).

Jobs, finances and raising families are some of the many reasons why non-first-time students don’t complete, says Dave Jarrat, vice president of marketing at the higher ed consulting firm InsideTrack, which organized the study. To combat that, students need help to develop effective time management skills and support when laying out their financial paths, he says.

“Many returning students have prior negative experiences with higher education or have been out for so long that they feel out of place,” Jarrat adds. “Providing an up-front conversation designed to normalize the experience and reassure them that they are entirely capable of succeeding, if they set their mind to it and work hard, can make a world of difference.”

With an estimated 40 percent of higher ed institutions not meeting their financial or enrollment goals last year, simply engaging with non-first-time students and finding alternative models to reach degree completion could help, says Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA.

College leaders must develop strategies to connect with those who have stopped out, he says. “That connection can create an allegiance to their original university, so if they do choose to finish their degree, they’ll be more likely to come back.”

More on the study, which is part of a cooperative benchmarketing initiative between InsideTrack, NASPA, the American Council on Education, the University Professional and Continuing Education Assocation, and National Student Clearinghouse, can be found at

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