Focus on part-time students to boost completion, close achievement gaps
- A recently released EAB report examines the importance of part-time student success to the overall aim of closing the educational attainment gap and increasing completion rates for students of color.
- According to the analysis, 84% of Hispanic students and 81% of black students enroll part-time for at least one semester in the course of their matriculation through higher education, compared to 72% of white students. The report authors found that providing better support to part-time students would result in a 13% decline in the achievement gap between black students and their white counterparts and a 7% gap between Hispanic students and their white counterparts. Focusing only on full-time students would yield only a 1% to 5% decline.
- Furthermore, the authors found discussions around academic pathways focus on full-time course loads, and they often don't consider the scheduling needs of adults with other responsibilities.
Most policies and practices in higher education, from federal financial aid awards to campus completion initiatives, are aimed at full-time students. And, perhaps, this is for good reason: More than three-fourths of students were attending four-year institutions full-time in 2015.
But at two-year institutions, only 39% of students attend full-time, which suggests that community colleges could be ground zero in the fight for achieving parity in higher ed completion for students of color and low incomes if the gains around focusing on part-time students are indeed higher.
In several states, a model that Utah is coining as dual mission education — one that combines the mission of the community college with the regional four-year institution — is taking off to increase access for students who may not immediately think college is the best option for them. In Wisconsin, there are formal conversations about merging the two- and four-year systems, and though they are not calling it dual mission education, the premise is to provide greater access and opportunities by way of more logical exit and entryways into higher education.
By cultivating relationships and helping students navigate higher education one "level" at a time earning stackable credentials and charting their own ending pathways, leaders hope to encourage more students to shoot for higher levels of education as they build familiarity with the enterprise.
According to Department of Education data, however, fewer students were working while attending class in 2015 than in 2005, and a recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report found there are fewer students over age 24 on campus than in the past. This may suggest that there are other reasons more students are attending college part-time, and conducting a survey of the needs of students would help campus leaders best ascertain how to serve these students.
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