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THE NEW FORGOTTEN HALF: Individuals with “Some College” but No Credential Fare No Better than High School Graduates, Finds New Report

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Not only do individuals with “some college” miss out on the increased earnings associated with credentials, they typically also face the additional burden of paying off debt.

As the educational demands of today’s economy have increased, 86 percent of on-time high school graduates attend college within eight years after graduation, according to The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them, a new report from the William T. Grant Foundation. At the same time, however, large numbers of individuals—especially those attending community college—fail to earn any credential at all, placing them on a career track that is no better than individuals with only a high school diploma.

“The new forgotten half, those individuals who have followed advice to go to college but have failed to attain any credential, have lower labor market payoffs than individuals who attain a credential,” the report notes. “Without systematic improvements, we suspect that these young people will continue to be deprived of good jobs and future careers, and will, perhaps, have a lower quality of life than those in similar positions in the past.”

According to the report, only 20 percent of community college students earn a bachelor’s degree within eight years after enrolling, while 33 percent earn an associate’s degree or certificate; the remaining 46 percent earn nothing. Those who earn credentials enjoy significant earnings advantages. Bachelor’s degree recipients earn 34 percent more than individuals with only a high school diploma; those with associate’s degrees earn 22 percent more; and individuals with professional certificates earn 13 percent more, the report finds.

“Students, educators, and policymakers need to see that ‘some college’ has little payoff; that baccalaureate degrees often have low odds and substantial obstacles; and that sub-baccalaureate options, such as associate’s degrees and certificates, have good payoffs and can provide a dependable path to a baccalaureate degree.”

Not only do individuals with “some college” miss out on the increased earnings associated with credentials, they typically also face the additional burden of paying off debt. “Students with no credentials have no payoff [and] waste scarce time and money, incurring substantial college debt—nearly as much as students who got certificates ($15,664 v. $15,995),” the report notes.

To help individuals who enter college complete a credential, the report identifies several research needs, including information for college students on pathways to credentials and job outcomes for various credentials, alignment of high school and college standards, linkages between colleges and employers, and better practices for high school college counselors.

“Counselors are the main source of information about college for many high school students, particularly those of low-socioeconomic status, and their advice can dramatically impact student choices,” the report notes. “Research can inform that advice by giving counselors relevant information and successful procedures targeted at low-income or academically struggling youth.”

The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them is available at http://wtgrantfoundation.org/newforgottenhalf.

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