Testing behavioral re-enrollment interventions

Associated Materials


Helping More Adults (re)Enroll in College


  • More than 36 million adults in the United States have some college credits but no postsecondary credentials.
  • We created the Adult (re)Enrollment Guide, a collection of behaviorally informed design recommendations, to help higher education professionals increase adult (re)enrollment.
  • We’re currently working with two state school systems to implement and test our proposed adult (re)enrollment behavioral interventions.


The Challenge

Despite the fact that college graduates are significantly more likely to be employed and have higher earnings than those without such credentials, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 50% of young adults in the United States lack a postsecondary degree, with Black, Latino, and Native American adults holding degrees at lower rates than their white counterparts. Additionally, there are 36 million Americans who have some college credits but no degree (SCND); that is, they enrolled in college but did not graduate. 

Many of these former students intended to persist to graduation but hit a variety of unexpected roadblocks along the way. Without adequately addressing these challenges, the number of “some college no degree” students will continue to grow, with a 22% increase in the SCND population in the past five years alone.


Our Approach

In April 2020, we joined Lumina Foundation’s Adult Promise efforts to examine how colleges market to, communicate with, and otherwise support potential adult learners—college students aged 25+—through the enrollment process. We sought to understand how adults without postsecondary credentials decide to enroll in school, the behavioral barriers that commonly stand in their way, and how both policymakers and schools can intervene to boost adult enrollment. 

We identified a number of the common behavioral barriers faced by potential adult learners. Our Adult (re)Enrollment Design Guide details 35 recommendations for schools to approach helping prospective adult students enroll.

We’re currently working with two state school systems to implement and test some of the adult-focused behavioral designs.



We hope to better understand what motivates adults to enroll or re-enroll in four-year degree programs through our ongoing partnerships, as well as the challenges that ultimately prevent many adults from following through on their intentions to earn four-year degrees. We’re confident this can help us identify how schools can better design programs and supports (academic, financial, and non-financial) that will be attractive to adults, meet their needs, and help them overcome common barriers to enrollment. The field of higher education as a whole is eager to better serve adult students. Using behavioral science, we can contribute insight around designing for scale in different contexts and ultimately improve the economic prospects of countless adults and their communities.

Follow @ideas42 on Twitter to learn more about our work. Contact us at education@ideas.org with questions.