On August 31, 2023, The Graduate! Network announced the creation of a new strategic operating partnership with CAEL (the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning). To learn more, visit CAEL’s website, and you can read the full announcement here.




What are the Premiums Gained from College Completion for Adults?

There are myriad advantages – or premiums – at the personal, family, and community level that can only be realized with a degree. However, tremendous education attainment inequities exist in attaining those advantages. Consider this: If you are white you are over 1.5 times more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than if you are black, and nearly 2.5 times more likely than if you are Latinx.

Source: ACS 1-Year Estimates 1-Year Estimates-Public Use Microdata Sample

Wage Premium

In general, those 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree earn about $28,000 more than those with some college but no degree. The average bachelor’s degree holder earns $73,000 annually, while those with some college who have not yet earned their degree earn an average of $45,000 annually.

Source: ACS 1-Year Estimates-Public Use Microdata Sample 2019 

Equity Premium

Over time bachelor’s degree completers of color earn at or above their in-state median wage for their major. Five years after graduation the median Latinx bachelor’s degree completers earned 81% more than those Latinx students who did not complete their degree. The figure was 59% more for Black degree completers.

Source: Equitable value: Promoting economic mobility and social justice through postsecondary education. The Postsecondary Value Commission. Institute for Higher Education Policy; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. May 2021, p 62. (NOTE: data taken from University of Texas System.) 

Generational Premium

Adults who complete their degree change the trajectories for their families. Children of parents who have earned a bachelor’s degree are more likely to enroll, persist, and graduate

  • Students with parents who attained a degree were more likely to graduate than first generation students:  74% versus 56%
  • Students with parents who attained a degree were more likely to persist in college coursework than first generation students: 67% versus 48%
  • Students with parents who attained a degree were less likely to leave college and not return: 14% versus 33%

Source: First-Generation Students College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes. U S Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. February 2018

Civic and Social Premium

Communities with more college completers are healthier, have greater civic engagement, and are generally better positioned to thrive when comparing data with those who have some college, no degree (SCND).

  • Those with a bachelor’s degree are 3 times less likely to smoke tobacco than those with some college no degree (SCND).
  • Those with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to exercise across all age groups than those with some college no degree (SCND). (76%-83% versus 71%-77%)
  • Those with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to volunteer than those with some college no degree (SCND): 42% versus 31%
  • Those with a bachelor’s degree, ages 25-44, were 18% more likely to vote than those with some college no degree (SCND): 62% versus 44% in 2018.

Source: Education Pays 2019. The College Board, 2019

Who are Comebackers?

Comebackers are members of our communities who – as adults – aspire for a different future for themselves. At some point in their past, they enrolled in college and earned credit; often they were the first in their families to attend college.

Because of numerous factors unique to their individual circumstances, they did not have the opportunity to complete.  The majority of Comebackers who have benefited from institution-neutral navigation services to return to college are people of color, a community of students for whom systems have not traditionally supported post-secondary success.  Yet they chose to return to become teachers or nurses or scientists or the thousands of other professions that require a bachelor’s degree or more; to be role models for the young people in their lives; or simply to fulfill a dream; or for all these reasons and more.

They are courageous, embarking on and persevering with a journey that is rife with challenges and obstacles. To celebrate these extraordinary individuals – individuals whose grit and resilience should inspire us all to do better – we call them Comebackers.


The percent of TGN Comebackers who re-enroll and identify as BIPOC, compared with 36 percent of the overall NSC-defined SCND population who re-enroll and identify as such.


The annual salary for nearly 80% of Comebackers is less than $42,000 per year; half of them earn less than $24,000 annually.


The Percent of Comebackers who are women; many are the first in their families to attend college.


The peak age at graduation for Comebackers.

Our Discoveries

Policy Matters:

There are important issues that Higher Education Institutions as well as state and federal policy makers should address to relieve debt and remove administrative barriers that are preventing potential Comebackers from finishing what they started. 

Policy makers also have an important role to play in making college more affordable.
You can read more about our policy recommendations here.

Neutral Navigation Matters: 

The Graduate! Network assists practitioners to implement an evolved practice model that helps Comebackers make the best choice for themselves and take action toward a degree. A core tenant of this practice model is that every Comebacker has access to an institution-neutral education navigator to help them complete their degree. A recent analysis found increased enrollment and graduation rates to be positively correlated with the number of high-quality interactions a Comebacker had with their navigator. 

You can read more about neutral navigation here.

Employers Matters: 

The Graduate! Network’s survey-to-action model, Bridging the Talent Gap, activates employers to identify and optimally support Comebacker employees. Our research, and the research of many others, has repeatedly found that employers value an educated workforce, and that employers who invest in front-line, hourly and entry-level workers have increased productivity, greater retention, and lower replacement costs.

You can learn more about Bridging the Talent Gap here.

Why The Graduate! Network?


For over a decade, The Graduate! Network has inspired communities, states, practitioners, and higher education institutions to establish practices in support of Comebackers’ educational aspirations.

We have an evolved practice model, developed in 2005, for helping Comebackers make the best education choice for themselves and taking action, along with a robust professional learning community that connects all those doing similar work across the country. Our practices have been leveraged to advance state and local educational attainment goals, to support higher education institutions striving for more equitable outcomes, and to encourage employers of all sizes to more thoughtfully invest in their workforces.

We have empowered our civic partners to engage with over 3,500 employers and more than 4,000 employees through our survey-to-action model, Bridging The Talent Gap, and helped activate more than 30 employer communities to start new practices that assist their employees – especially front line workers – to return to continue their education. We have partnered to organize peer networks of Ambassadors to help Comebackers take the first step to returning to college.

The interventions we created continue to be refined through robust data collection and rigorous data analysis, courtesy of our research partners, and show again and again that the Network’s practice model improves re-enrollment and graduation rates for those with the least resources to return. We are a practice model that has been proven  to promote equitable higher education outcomes.  It is a practice model that can be aligned to fit the unique assets in your community, based on nearly two decades of experience.

The Graduate! Network catalyzes communities, practitioners, higher education, employers, and policy makers to address past educational inequities by building, investing in, and delivering supportive pathways to completion for those who are too often forgotten.

Learn more about The Graduate! Network