It’s better to go full-time

A new national study emphasizes that community college students who attend full-time rather than part-time have significantly higher success rates.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center followed a cohort of first-time, full-time and part-time degree-seeking students enrolled in a public two-year college in fall 2012 to see how they did over a six-year period, from completion to transfer and persistence.

At the end of their second year, 11.3 percent of full-time students graduated from their starting institution, increasing to 27.8 percent at the fourth year and to 32.1 percent by the sixth year. Among part-time students, 4.0 percent graduated at the end of the second year, 15.1 percent at the end of the fourth year and 20.9 percent by the sixth year.

Full-time students had a higher “stop-out” rate than part-timers at the end of the second year (23.3 percent compared to 20.5 percent, respectively), but in the third year through the sixth year the stop-out rate of part-time students outpaced that of full-time students. By the sixth year, 37 percent of full-time students stopped out compared to 44.3 percent of part-time students.

A look at transfers

Among students who transferred and remained in school, more part-time students than full-time students did so after the second year (9.7 percent versus 8.4 percent) and after the fifth and sixth year. More full-time students did so after their third year (14 percent versus 12.6 percent) and fourth year (13.6 percent compared to 12.4 percent).

Full-time two-year college students fared better after transferring than part-time students. The percentage of full-time students who transferred and graduated from the other institution gradually increased from 1.5 percent after the third year to 11.7 percent after the sixth year. Among part-time students, the rate was 1.8 percent after the third year, rising to 9.5 percent after the sixth year.

Among those who transferred and stopped out, the percentage was greater among part-time students over the period studied. For full-time students, it was 1.8 percent after the third year, increasing to 7.5 percent after the sixth year. Among part-time students, the rate was 2.3 percent after the third year, rising to 8.6 percent after the sixth year.

Wider window

The six-year period studied shows that two-year students take longer to complete, noted Kent Phillippe, associate vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges. The traditional federal graduation rate reported by institutions — percent of first-time, full-time students who graduate within 150 percent of normal time (or three years) — based on this data would be around 22.1 percent. However, by extending the time to six years, the completion rate at the original college increases to 32.1 percent.

Additionally, the report shows that there are still 4.7 percent of part-time students still enrolled at their initial institution pursuing a credential, Phillippe noted.

“This highlights the fact that many community college students who begin full-time, do not maintain that enrollment intensity at the college, and take longer than three years to complete a credential at the college,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.