36 million Americans have college credits but no degree. Let’s fix that.

“Everyone has their own path.” Adults are finishing long-abandoned degrees thanks to this unique nonprofit.
Watch on YouTube
In partnership with Lumina

Complete 2 Compete, the organization you see in this video, is eligible to win $50,000 from the Lumina Foundation’s Beautiful Minds contest. Learn more and cast your vote on YouTube now!

Krystal Austin had a rocky start at Mississippi’s Jackson State University, struggling with computer science courses her heart wasn’t into. 

“I wasn’t happy. I didn’t excel,” Austin says. “I failed, actually. I don’t even think I got a grade of a C. And that’s totally not like me.” 

Austin shifted her focus toward education. But then she became pregnant and was due to have her baby the month before finals. She became ill and ended up giving birth early, which forced her to pull out of classes and miss her exams. 

Austin joined the ranks of those with “some college-no degree,” which includes millions of Americans. Many of them also have outstanding loans. Like Austin, life changed for them, and in many cases they’ve run out of the money needed for classes.

That no longer applies to Austin, thanks to an innovative program that helps returning students finish their degrees.

She went back to college and graduated from Jackson State, and now runs her own employment consulting firm, Elite Consultings. She’s one of the success stories of Mississippi’s Complete to Compete (C2C), a program designed to tear down the barriers preventing students from going back to college.

C2C gave Austin the money she needed to finish college, and it was a thrilling moment when she put on her blue Jackson State cap and gown for graduation. 

“I just want that to be the inspiration for my children,” Austin says.

Education, Interrupted

Austin’s story isn’t unusual.

Thirty-six million Americans have completed some college courses, but never graduated, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

About 10 percent are what the student clearinghouse calls “potential completers,” people who have already banked at least two years worth of post-high school education. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that these students were the most likely to go back to college and complete their studies.

Many schools are working hard to get students back to college.

The National Governors Association says it’s critical to make sure students know about education that meets their needs, “and that they have the resources and support to successfully overcome barriers to re-enrolling and persisting.” Those barriers can include not having the money to finish school. Other students may owe their schools money, a debt that can not only bar them from completing but also block access to their transcripts, the New America think tank found.

Of the former students New America surveyed, one in 10 cited the confusing mess of higher education bureaucracy — like complicated graduation applications — as a major challenge.

“In a very real sense, these comebackers had already made it to the finish line but were being prevented from crossing,” New America reported.

Reaching adult learners can also help address education inequality; Black, Hispanic and Latino college students have higher dropout rates than white students, the National Governors Association says.

Complete 2 Compete

A joint program founded by the Mississippi Institution of Higher Learning and the Mississippi Community College Board, C2C works with the Magnolia State’s 15 public community colleges, eight public universities, and the public medical center to help overcome barriers preventing students from going back to college. 

“Complete to Compete is a statewide adult learner initiative whose mission is to increase the number of Mississippi adults who hold a postsecondary degree,” Amber Palmer, C2C’s project coordinator, says. 

C2C began as part of a broader effort to increase the educational attainment rate in America, Palmer says. But reaching out to the “traditional” student population wasn’t going to cut it; adult learners needed to be reached. 

After launching in August 2017, C2C used data from Mississippi’s higher education systems to determine that almost 85,000 students could benefit from the program. 

Complete to Compete enrollees can enter a degree program designed exclusively for C2C. “It is flexible,” Palmer says. “It is fast-track. It’s a path for an individual to quickly earn a bachelor’s degree.”

Of course, those degrees aren’t necessarily free. C2C offers tuition assistance grants, like the one that helped Krystal Austin, and coaches who can help guide students through their journey, addressing the financial and bureaucratic hurdles that trip up so many students attempting to go back to college.

The program has an impact on the entire state, Palmer says, bolstering the economy and lifting the state’s educational attainment more in line with other states. Palmer compares C2C’s impact to throwing a stone into water. 

“You see the ripple effects, and then you can’t,” Palmer says. “That doesn’t mean they’re not still going. You just can’t see them. That is the impact that this program has on so many different levels.”

The Ripple Effect

Since going back to college and getting her degree, Austin has helped make a difference for others. 

Through her business, Elite Consultings, Austin helps people write resumes and draft professional documents, build their professional presence on Facebook and LinkedIn, and improve their performance in job interviews through coaching. 

“Without my degree, I would not have opened a business,” Austin says.

About The Beautiful Minds Contest

If you want Complete 2 Compete to win $50,000, thumbs up this video on YouTube!

Complete 2 Compete, the organization you see in this video, is eligible to win $50,000 from the Lumina Foundation’s Beautiful Minds contest. The Lumina Foundation exists to discover and support adult learning opportunities that exist outside of the traditional education system. 

The Beautiful Minds contest features three organizations, Complete 2 Compete, EKCEP, and District 1199C Training Fund. Each organization will win money to further their own missions.

  • First place wins $50,000
  • Second place wins $15,000
  • Third place wins $10,000

The contest begins March 23rd and voting concludes May 31st, and the winner will be announced June 3rd. The video with the best like ratio on YouTube wins!

Freethink is proud to host the Beautiful Minds contest, and we’ll be posting the three videos on our channel the following dates:

  • 3/24 – “36 million Americans have college credits but no degree. Let’s fix that,” featuring Complete 2 Compete
  • 4/6 – “What’s next for coal mining?” featuring EKCEP
  • 4/20 – “The apprenticeship that pays for your college degree” featuring District 1199C Training Fund

Come back to watch all of our Beautiful Minds videos, and thumbs up the videos you think deserve money to further their mission.

Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories