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Cost Leading Reason College Students Are Stopping Out

Cost Leading Reason College Students Are Stopping Out

by Stephanie Marken and Zach Hrynowski

Story Highlights

  • Cost and work conflicts are leading reasons students are stopping out
  • About three-quarters of Americans have considered reenrolling in past two years
  • Consideration is higher among short-term credential and two-year programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The vast majority of Americans who have stopped out of their postsecondary pathway before earning a degree, 87%, say cost is a “very” or “moderately” important reason they are not currently enrolled. Cost is followed closely by flexibility concerns, as majorities say work conflicts (81%), total time to complete (73%) and a lack of remote learning options (70%) are very or moderately important reasons why they are currently unenrolled.


Cost is the most important reason Americans without a credential or degree say they have stopped out of their postsecondary pathway across all demographic groups, including among different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The latest results are from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2024 State of Higher Education Study, conducted Oct. 9-Nov. 16, 2023, via a web survey with 14,032 current and prospective college students. This includes 6,015 students currently enrolled in a post-high school education program (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree), 5,012 adults previously enrolled in a program who did not complete a degree, and 3,005 adults who have never been enrolled in a school or program. Gallup surveyed all groups via an opt-in online panel.

One in Four Who Have Stopped Out Have Considered Reenrolling in Past Two Years

Approximately three-quarters of those who have stopped out of a postsecondary pathway -- including a certification, certificate, associate and bachelor’s degree program -- and lack a degree or credential say they have considered enrolling in a program in the past two years. The level of interest is similar across degree/credential types, although a slightly smaller percentage -- 22% -- of those who have stopped out say they have considered enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program. Short-term credentials -- including industry certifications and certificates, as well as associate degree programs -- have slightly higher consideration rates. Such differences in reenrollment trends in these programs may reflect the higher rate of students generally who stop out of two-year and short-term credential or degree programs nationally.


Bottom Line

Today, approximately 41.9 million Americans have some college experience but no degree or credential. The percentage of Americans who have taken some college courses, but who have stopped out and not completed their degree or credential, has increased significantly over the past five years.

For many of these Americans, their time enrolled in these courses represents significant opportunity costs and financial investment. Given that they lack a degree or credential to show for their time enrolled, they are often worse off than if they never enrolled to begin with. Understanding the reasons these Americans stopped out and are not currently enrolled is critically important as policymakers and education leaders attempt to help these learners complete their postsecondary pathways. These data help inform the strategies -- mainly financial -- that would allow these learners to return and complete that postsecondary journey.

Learn more about how the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education Study works.

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