Student success is a top priority for many community colleges. However, many of the support programs and assistance provided to enhance student success are geared toward full-time students rather than part-time students. Yet, the American Association of Community Colleges reports that 62% of students attend community college part-time.
According to a recent report from EAB, 47% of part-time students believe they will graduate within two years, but only 8% of part-time students actually complete their degree within four years. The report also found that Hispanic and African American students are more likely than white students to attend part-time, meaning a focus on support for part-time students often means more support for underserved populations.
While research has shown that transitioning from a part-time to full-time student increases a student’s likelihood of graduating, for some students, it’s not possible to attend school full-time. A variety of factors can come into play here, including financial situations, home life, health issues, and more. Christina Hubbard, director of research at EAB, says that the key to increasing part-time students graduation rates is not to promote full-time status as the only option, but to support them in their current situation.
So how can institutions support part-time students to help close the achievement gap for minority students? Below, we outline 4 different ways to help part-time students achieve the ultimate goal of attaining a degree.
- Require orientation for part-time students.
New student orientation has time and time again proven to increase student success and retention rates. However, not all part-time students don’t always take orientation, which may be due to the fact it’s not required at some institutions, or that their schedules don’t allow them to attend.
The first step in getting part-time students to attend orientation is giving flexible options, as part-time students often have busy schedules. Flexible options might mean offering an online orientation that’s accessible 24/7, or offering night and weekend options. The second step is developing an orientation that is tailored to part-time students. Just as international students have unique needs and questions, part-time students need answers to specific questions like schedule flexibility, transfer credit, financial aid with a part-time status, etc. One of the biggest benefits of orientation is early engagement, was has proven to lead to student success.
- Increase flexibility in scheduling.
The EAB report found that three-quarters of part-time students are employed, and about two-thirds are age 24 or older, meaning they are more likely to be financially independent or have children to support. This shows that part-time students likely have more obligations than just school. Family obligations and work schedules can make it difficult for part-time students to attend class during the typical 9-6pm hours. To increase the chances of part-time students being able to take (and succeed in) a class, institutions should offer night classes or online courses that allow for more flexibility.
Course deliverability isn’t the only factor that comes into play with part-time student success. If a student were to have an emergency midway through their semester that caused them to withdraw, all the work they did up until that point would be lost. One college, Trident Technical College in South Carolina, found that by shortening their semesters into seven-week periods, they were able to increase success rates 13%.
- Develop an advising program that specializes in part-time student needs.
According to the EAB report, one way to reduce achievement gaps between part-time and full-time students is to engage students who have a limited time on campus, even if that’s virtually. Studies have shown that proactive advising is one of the best ways to engage students, however, advising programs can often be geared towards full-time students. Using the latest technology, you can develop a program that is focused on meeting the unique needs of part-time students.
What does a part-time advising program look like? Include aspects like:
- Utilizing a dynamic Q&A tool that includes questions to specifically address questions from part-time students, like credits, financial aid for part-time students, and scheduling options.
- Offering evening, weekend, or virtual “office hours” for advising. Creating a simple scheduling calendar that allows students to schedule advising appointments during a time that fits their schedule makes advising much more accessible.
- Provide information on career development opportunities or on-campus job opportunities.
- Offer financial aid resources geared towards part-time students.
According to a report from Center for American Progress, a full-time student could receive financial aid to cover half of attendance costs, compared to a part-time student in the same financial situation that might only receive financial aid for 17% of their costs. This is often due to the fact that students that attend school part-time receive less Pell-aid than their full-time counterparts, and states often have little to no financial support for part-time students.
While institutions don’t always have a large amount of control over financial aid stipulations, especially public ones, additional resources focused on financial support for part-time students can be provided as support. Providing an online portal with links to resources like scholarship opportunities, work-study programs, and aid specific to part-time study can be immensely helpful to students, especially when they have little spare time to research on their own.