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Beyond the News

Stopping Out, Stepping Back In

How institutions are helping adult learners return to school
University Business, Sept 2011
The Grad TX website is a one-stop-shop for Texas students who have paused their education and are looking to complete a degree.

In this tough job climate, a college degree is more important than ever. That’s why the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is helping students who’ve put their education on hold before completing a degree—or “stopped out”—return to finish their bachelor’s degrees. Stop-outs are different from drop-outs in that they don’t want to leave school.
Grad TX aims to connect the 3 million adults over 25 in the state who have some college credit and no degree.

While this number could reflect students who have as few as three credits under their belt, Van L. Davis, special projects director of academic programs at the THECB, says there have been tens of thousands of students in the past five years who have stopped out pretty close to meeting the 120 credit-hour requirement for a bachelor’s degree:
• 68,103 students had accumulated at least 45 credit hours
• 58,000 had at least 60 credit hours
• 40,692 had at least 90 credit hours
• 35,301 had 100 or more credit hours

Through the program’s website,, students interested in completing their degrees can learn about degree programs and success stories, get links to career services and financial aid, and get in touch with academic advisors. The site also features a credit transfer tool, which allows registered users to input the courses they’ve taken and the grades they have received. The tool will match that information to the records of participating institutions and prospective students will automatically see how their existing credits might transfer to one of those institutions.

“That tool will provide folks with a chance at seeing they might not be as far off as they think they are,” says Davis.
Because Texas is a large state, marketing for this program would “cost more money than we can even imagine,” says Davis. Lucky for them, the majority of the target population is in their 20s and 30s, so Davis believes social media and online ads could prove to be effective dissemination tools. “We’re dealing with folks who have had a significant amount of credit hours,” he says. “Most likely they’re pretty tech savvy.”

The eight participating Grad TX institutions are Lamar University, Midwestern State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of North Texas system, the University of Houston-Downtown, and the University of Houston-Clearlake.

Stopping out is by no means an issue unique to Texas, and programs are quickly developing nationwide to pinpoint this population and help people complete their degrees. According to research from the Lumina Foundation, nearly 37 million—or 22.4 percent—of the U.S. population aged 25-64 have some college education, but no degree. That’s more than the 19 percent of Americans in that same demographic who do have bachelor’s degrees.

“If you look at this age range, there are numerous reasons [for stopping out] and it has to do with life obligations at the time,” says Mary Beth Lakin, associate director of the Center for Lifelong Learning at ACE. “They had to switch gears and take care of those commitments.”

For information about other programs for those who have stopped out, visit the Adult College Completion Network at —Kristen Domonell