Better strategies needed to effectively serve part-time students, especially single mothers
- A new report from the Institute of Women's Policy Research (IWPR) shows just 28% single mothers graduate with a degree or certificate within six years of enrollment, while another 55% leave college before earning a credential. These statistics follow on the heels of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) upgrading late last year its core postsecondary education data collection platform — the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) — to include data around outcomes for part-time and non-first-time students at two- and four-year institutions.
- The information shines a light on how part-time students have largely been left behind in discussions around completion, even though NCES data reveals that more than 61% of the 6.2 million students enrolled at two-year institutions have part-time status, wrote Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a national network of community colleges, in an article for PBS. Stout said research reveals "the average gap between full-time and part-time persistence rates at nearly 60 institutions was more than 12 percentage points."
- This reality, Stout wrote, calls for institutions to use data to "better understand course completion, semester retention, enrollment continuity ... to correct an "historical general lack of a focus on part-time students nationally." IWPR's report echoes similar sentiments, stating that colleges and federal policymakers ought to consider specific intervention strategies for students with unique barriers to complete. The report also suggests that greater access to child care services could "lead to significant increases in degree attainment among single mothers, improving their long-term economic security and benefiting their children and society more broadly."
Outcomes information reveals that part-time students, who are often low-income and underserved, need more attention to reach completion, but that institutions are not providing intervention strategies for them, or simply don't know how to address their needs due to lack of data.
The issue of limited data recently came to light in discussions around Pell Grant recipients, with new research demonstrating that historically four-year institutions have failed to serve these students well. Tamara Hiler and Wesley Whistle, who co-authored a report for Third Way on Pell student completion rates, recently told Education Dive that results of their initial data collection only further demonstrate how policy and institution leaders need to work together toward disaggregation and distribution of data on student performance, in order to truly improve outcomes across the board.
For instance, the IWPR report shows intervention strategies for single mothers — with their unique barriers to accessing affordable child care — are difficult to consider when there is limited data for institutions to pull from, or to even begin understanding the demographic make-up of their student bodies. That's why, as Hiler explained to Education Dive, the new data about Pell Grant students is just one piece of the puzzle in making education pathways more accessible and easier to complete.
"What makes this [survey] unique is that this is the first time the public can really see all the data in one place on how Pell students are doing, and this is only first-time full-time Pell students," Hiler said. She added that in the fall, the Education Department is scheduled to release data on part-time and transfer Pell student graduation rates.
"We can see there are very clear outliers and institutions that are able to buck the trend," she said. "We need to look at those institutions and see how can we help to support and scale those efforts."
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