Degrees When Due Initiative Seeks to Increase Degree Completion for Adults with “Some College, No Degree”

Program applications are now open. Participating colleges use degree reclamation strategies to re-engage students seeking to earn their associate degree.

Earning a college degree leads to a higher median income level and improved social mobility for students, especially those from low-income backgrounds.[1] Yet many students who enroll in college do not finish - there are nearly four million students who have completed at least two years of college coursework and yet have no degree to show for it.[2] Many of these students are students of color, low-income, and adult learners who attend institutions part-time or follow multi-institutional attendance patterns. Many leave without a degree due to financial, scheduling, and family care-taking needs. Institutional implementation of degree reclamation strategies, such as reverse transfer (the practice of awarding an associate degree retroactively to students who completed the coursework for a degree yet transferred from a two-year to a four-year institution without any such credential) and re-engaging near-completers, can support underrepresented student populations address workforce preparation, and close postsecondary equity gaps.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) developed Degrees When Due (DWD) to scale the degree reclamation lessons learned from Project Win-Win and Credit When It’s Due (CWID), two earlier models that collectively helped institutions award 20,000 new associate’s degrees to hard-working students. DWD is a national initiative to increase degree attainment among the “some college, no degree” population. It promotes evidence-based and equity-focused degree reclamation strategies that help systems and institutions identify students who either earned enough credits to earn an associate’s degree, yet left without receiving one, or those students who left just before completing enough credits to earn a degree. DWD helps institutions re-engage those students to complete their studies if necessary, so that they may finally receive the degree they earned. IHEP is accepting applications from institutions and states interested in joining the second cohort.

Degrees When Due helps institutions and systems improve their student completion rates by sharing data-driven strategies and tactics through a free web-based platform. The learning experience is designed to help institutions assemble the right teams to work with their own real-time student data, in order to identify eligible students and confer actual degrees at the end of nine months. Institutions are guided through applying an equity lens to their data analysis in order to make sure that today’s students—students of color, low-income students, working students, student parents, and others—are re-engaged to cross the finish line.

The first cohort of DWD includes forty-five institutions in 8 states – California, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Participating institutions have already identified the students that fall within their eligibility thresholds and many were able to begin conferring degrees this spring. Experience has proven these strategies work, and the evidence from the first cohort reinforces that.

Given the changing demographics in higher education and the varied needs of todays’ students, we need effective completion policies and programs that address equity gaps in attainment. Federal legislation, such as the recently introduced Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2019, has received strong bipartisan support, as policymakers across the aisle recognize the importance of facilitating the ability of institutions to share student data and confer degrees they have earned, while still prioritizing student privacy and consent. States have also taken an active role in reverse transfer implementation – as of 2018, seventeen states had legislation which requires institutions to process reverse transfers and award degrees.[3] On the ground, colleges can equip their leaders and staff with the right tools to implement evidence-based strategies to  can help more students cross the completion finish line.

Leanne Davis an Assistant Director of Applied Research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. She can be reached at

[1] Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Education pays: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: The College Board.

[2] Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Yuan, X., Harrell, A., Wild, J., Ziskin, M. (2014, July). Some College, No Degree: A National View of Students with Some College Enrollment, but No Completion (Signature Report No. 7). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

[3] Education Commission of the States (2018). 50-state comparison: Statewide reverse transfer.

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