Learning communities may help close the achievement gap for part-time students, finds a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).
Part-time students make up roughly 75% of the student population at community colleges. But just 37% of part-time students earn a degree within six years, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
While previous research has found benefits from encouraging part-time students to go full time, CAP acknolwedges that increasing credit hours is simply not possible for some students, including those with financial pressures or family demands. “Underrepresented minorities and low-income students, they’re more likely to be working. So, to expect them to go 15 credits at a time is setting them up to fail,” explains Christina Hubbard, a community college expert at EAB.
So Bunker Hill Community College is taking a different approach. For part-time students who can’t take on more credit hours, leaders at Bunker Hill are designing learning communities with seminars and cluster scheduling.
Bunker Hill’s learning communities connect students with one another and with campus resources—like success coaches, peer mentors, and advisors—by encouraging students to enroll in designated learning community courses. Officials say the sense of belonging that comes with learning communities is particularly important for part-time students, who are less likely to form relationships with peers or professors on campus.
“Sometimes part-time students just come in, come to class, and leave. Even when I did that as [a new] student, it was detrimental,” explains Selene Ludovici, a part-time student and an ambassador in the peer mentoring program. “I didn’t get to know people, I didn’t have a network. Building that network has been the most beneficial thing to me, and I think by having [peer mentors] in these learning communities, we are closing the gap between the students that stick around and the students that just fall through.”
Bunker Hill has already witnessed the impact of these learning communities: part-time students enrolled in any of Bunker Hill’s learning communities during their first year are 7% more likely to return the following year. The program also benefits full-time students, who are 6% more likely to return the following year after enrolling in a learning community course.
The CAP report also suggests that learning communities and similar programs—like peer mentoring or success coaching—that provide part-time students with elements of a more traditional college experience may also improve part-time student completion rates at both two- and four-year colleges (Arnett, Education Dive, 8/1/18; Bombardieri, Center for American Progress, 7/31/18).