A tough road for part-time students

A new report emphasizes what community college advocates have known for a long time: part-time students don’t have the same success rates as full-time students.

While the national six-year college completion rate continues to increase, students who first enroll part-time in college face obstacles that can impede their goal of earning a credential, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report.

Among all first-time, degree-seeking students who began college part-time in fall 2013, one in four left in their first year, and by the end of spring 2019 more than half left college without earning a credential, the report said. That includes students who started at four-year institutions and at two-year institutions, where even part-timers, especially those who later switched to full time, should have had enough time to finish, it said.

For students entering part-time in fall 2013, 21.3 percent had completed a postsecondary credential by the end of year four, while 45.3 percent were no longer enrolled. By the end of year six, 34.2 percent had graduated, while 51.2 percent had left college without earning a credential. The six-year graduation rate for part-time students is 1.2 percentage points higher than the rate for the 2012 cohort.

Among students enrolling full-time, 45.4 percent had completed a postsecondary credential by the end of year four, and by the end of year six, 65.6 percent had graduated. The latest six-year graduation rate is 1.3 percentage points higher compared to the 2012 cohort.

The report includes year-by-year rates of retention, persistence, transfer, completion and stop-out. Between the 2009 and the 2013 cohorts, the six-year stop-out rate increased for part-time entering students (44.8 percent compared to 51.2 percent), while it dropped for entering full-time students (29.7 percent versus 26.1 percent).

Starting at public two-year colleges

There are substantial differences between part- and full-time students, according to the report. By the end of year three, 67.9 percent of full-time community college entrants had either completed a postsecondary credential (25.3 percent), were still enrolled in college (40.8 percent) or had transferred to a different institution before withdrawing (1.7 percent). The graduation rate of 25.3 percent is 1.7 percentage points higher compared to 2012.

By the end of year three, 64.9 percent of public-two year college students entering part-time had either completed a postsecondary credential (12.1 percent), were still enrolled in college (50.5 percent) or had transferred to a different institution before withdrawing (2.3 percent). This graduation rate has barely changed from 2012.

Taking a full-time course load is challenging for many community college students, who often struggle with finances, childcare and other hurdles, the center noted. It encouraged finding ways to offer financial aid and other support services to help them go full-time. In addition, the center said it is important to use early interventions to keep students on track toward a credential. Such efforts will be especially important as students’ struggles increase with the challenges due to the pandemic.

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