If community colleges want to close the achievement gap, they should pay more attention to their part-time students, according to a report from EAB.
After analyzing data and interviewing more than 100 community college leaders, EAB researchers found that part-time community college students—who are more likely to be black or Hispanic—tend to have lower completion rates than their white counterparts. After switching to part-time for just one semester, black and Hispanic students see a drop in completion rates by 31% and 39%, respectively, compared to a 29% decline for white students.
Previous research from the University of Texas at Austin found that that just one semester of full-time attendance could boost community college students’ likelihood of graduating. Politicians and nonprofits alike have championed programs that encourage part-timers to go full-time, writes Ashley Smith for Inside Higher Ed.
But “full-time is not going to work for every community college student,” says Christina Hubbard, a community college expert at EAB. Minority students typically face obstacles that prevent them from enrolling full-time, like 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,” she explains.
Instead, colleges need to offer stronger support for part-timers, says Hubbard.
Trident Technical College (TTC), for example, boosted its course pass rates after revising their semester model and orientation to better accommodate the part-time student experience, writes Smith. TTC analyzed its data and saw that “students who enrolled in shorter terms have better success rates,” says Hubbard. When students withdraw midway through a term, they “essentially lost the credits [they] put in,” she explains.
So TTC divided its semesters into seven-week periods. Under a divided semester, students don’t lose any credits if they decide to withdraw, writes Smith. After implementing the seven-week term in 2016, TTC’s black students and Pell-eligible students saw their average course pass rates climb 17 percentage points and 13 percentage points, respectively, from 2011.
TTC also revised its orientation process to suit the part-time student experience. Unlike the typical two-day orientation for full-time students, TTC delivers orientation information piecemeal to part-time students. Now, students receive information about financial aid when they’re at that stage of the process, says Laurie Fladd, previously the director of academic advising at TTC. “We’re advising part-time students the same way we would full-time, but we’re trying to find out their particular life situation and what it is that makes them be part-time,” says Fladd (Smith, Inside Higher Ed, 5/1/18).