Taking one more course can matter

A new report emphasizes the benefits of part-time students adding more courses — even just one — in helping them persist and complete a credential.

The closer part-time students came to taking 15 credits per semester the more likely they would continue with their education, according to Civitas Learning. The biggest difference in persistence was among students taking one course compared to those who took two courses, but increases were also present between students who took three versus two courses, four to five and five to six.

Civitas Learning, a company based in Austin, Texas, that uses data and analytics to help colleges get more students to succeed, crunched data from 30 community colleges and 30 four-year institutions for the study.

Why it matters

The issue of helping part-time students succeed is particularly critical to community colleges. Sixty-two percent of community college students attend part-time, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

On average, students in the study attempted 3.6 courses per term across all the institutions. Students at public two-year colleges took three courses per term, while those at four-year institutions took four courses per term.

At community colleges, most students (nearly 61 percent) took two or three courses per semester, according to the study. About 25 percent enrolled full-time or took four or more courses.  At four-year and research institutions, the two largest groups were those taking four or five courses.

“This data are congruent with the findings that an average of 60 percent of students at the 2-year institutions were part-time compared to 23 percent of students at 4-year institutions,” the report said.

Finding the right fit

But the report noted that part-time students don’t attend full-time for their own reasons — such finances or work and family obligation — so a blanket approach to get them to take more courses won’t mean they will persist or succeed. Instead, colleges should examine various strategies to help part-time students reach their goals, it said.

“Capitalizing on this opportunity will rely on knowing which students have a strong probability of finishing, and then determining the right nudge that considers their particular life and logistics,” the report said.

For example, colleges could look at students who have high GPAs, a high probability of persisting and are close to completing their degrees. Colleges can also help ensure that students are applying for federal student aid.

The report also provided brief case studies. South Texas College, for instance — where nearly two-thirds of students attend part-time — saw that students who enrolled in one course had a persistence rate of nearly 69 percent, while students enrolled in two courses showed an improved persistence rate of 76 percent.

When the data was presented to college officials, the conversation switched from “How do we get part-time students to become full-time students” to “How can we get part-time students to register for 1 or 2 more courses,” the report said.

The report also looked at the multi-pronged approach used at Sinclair Community College in Ohio, where again about two-thirds of students attend part-time. It focused on reducing the number of credits students need to graduate, streamlining development education, ensuring students had one advisor, providing students with an academic map to allow them to follow their own progress, and designing pathways that aligned with career options.

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.