Colleges and States Turn Their Attention to Slow-Moving Part-Time Students
Colleges and states are realizing that they won’t meet their enrollment targets or improve the proportion of their residents with higher educations if they don’t pay more attention to this part of the student population. (Hechinger Report)
Excerpt From Hechinger Report
Fewer than one in five students who enroll part time from the start at a four-year college have earned a degree eight years later, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Part-timers at community college fare even worse.
The reasons these students take so long to finish college, or drop out altogether, often come down to two factors: money and scheduling. Many, like Dzindzichashvili, interrupt their studies because of the cost. Others find it nearly impossible to fit courses around work and childcare.
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Part-time classmates who worked during the day, as she did, Dzindzichashvili said, constantly worried about whether courses would be available at night.
“Students like us were not the focus of the program,” she said. “A lot of us felt invisible.”
That’s starting to change as federal forecasts show part-time enrollment outpacing full-time enrollment through at least 2027 and other new figures shed light on how long it takes for part-time students to graduate. Colleges and states are realizing that they won’t meet their enrollment targets or improve the proportion of their residents with higher educations if they don’t pay more attention to this part of the student population.
More institutions are scheduling courses at the times when part-time students need them, rather than when it’s convenient for faculty. They’re extending support programs to part-time students that have been proven to improve results among full-time ones. Some states are opening up financial aid programs to part-time students who haven’t previously been eligible for them.
But on many college campuses in many states, part-time students remain an afterthought, even though part-timers now make up more than a quarter of students at four-year colleges, and close to two-thirds at community colleges. Many of the growing number of “free college” plans exclude part-time students, either to control costs or to encourage full-time enrollment.
In fact, administrators often encourage part-time students to “take their time,” said Davis Jenkins, senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. That, he said, “turns out to be very bad advice.” (The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College.)
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The longer students stay in school, the more likely they will face a family or financial crisis that will derail their ambitions, said Marcella Bombardieri, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress who wrote a report on part-timers.
Going slow means “there’s just more time for things to go wrong,” Bombardieri said.
Among other interventions, many colleges are getting behind a national campaign to simply persuade more part-time students to convert to full time.
That’s because attending college full time saves money, increases the odds of graduating, and lets students realize the financial benefits of their degrees sooner.