Closing the Attainment Gap

MBEP Brings Degrees When Due Initiative to Region

An infinite number of barriers, from childcare responsibilities and work schedules to financial constraints and frustration, can get in the way of college students completing the degrees they set out to attain. But for some who fall into that “some college, no degree” category, the finish line is closer than they know.

Thanks to a national initiative about to gain inroads in the Monterey Bay region, colleges and universities are gaining the tools to get students back on track and to close the attainment gap. Degrees When Due, a national completion and equity initiative of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), seeks to build expertise, capacity, and infrastructure on campuses across the nation to get near-completers over the finish line. 

Significant work needs to be done: 36 million Americans have some college but no degree, and 4 million completed at least two years of coursework. In California, where the state attainment rate is 40 percent, there are an estimated 530,000 near-completers. In some cases, a few college credits or applications are the only things keeping students crossing from the finish line, says Leanne Davis, Assistant Director of Applied Research at IHEP. Others progress well into their degree programs but get sidelined by work and family obligations, financial constraints, or unmet graduation requirements.

With the help of MBEP’s Workforce Development Initiative, all six of MBEP’s higher ed partners — Cabrillo, Gavilan, Hartnell, and Monterey Peninsula community colleges, CSU Monterey Bay, and UC Santa Cruz — have been accepted into a Degrees When Due cohort that launches later this month, teaming them with more than 175 institutions from at least 21 states focused on helping to increase degree attainment among students with some college and no degree.

The initiative supports near-completers by providing access to an interactive online tool and live-coaching to guide staff through implementation of degree reclamation strategies, by building and facilitating communities of practice among campus staff and state agencies, and by performing research into best practices for re-engaging students.

The first Degrees When Due cohort of about 20 campuses was able to identify more than 2,700 students who had already earned their associate degrees but had never had that degree conferred, said Davis. An additional 19,000 students were identified as “near-completers.”

Sometimes, explained Davis, students transfer to another institution without filing for graduation, while others may have amassed enough credits without realizing they’ve met degree requirements, or their credits may qualify them for a degree in a different pathway. “They invested all of this time, and money, and effort into attending their postsecondary education, and there are so many reasons why they stop out,” said Davis.

The answers can be surprisingly simple: One college’s data showed that a third of non-grads hadn’t met a health and wellness requirement unrelated to their core requirements. That type of data can help an institution reevaluate its degree requirements and ensure they are equitable, particularly for older, black, or Latinx students. Missing credits and incomplete grad requirements are so much more than stats. 

“It matters for very personal reasons,” said Davis. “They could be the first person in their family to earn a credential, or they could be a parent who is setting an example for their child. If you think about everything through the COVID lens, it could help someone upscale or rescale.”

“Those things are so important for students,” said Davis. “What we have to look at, in higher ed, is where are our priorities right now, what do we need to do to help our students across the finish line, and what is most important for them to have experienced and learned when they cross that finish line?”