Eighty-three percent of community college students will enroll part-time or stop out at least once before they graduate. But only 8% of part-time students will graduate within four years, according to recent EAB research.
While many community college leaders assume the solution is to encourage part-time students to switch to full-time status, “for many of these students, life’s competing priorities ensure that attending full-time will never be a viable option,” explains EAB Director Christina Hubbard.
So how can colleges improve part-time student completion rates without making students attend full-time? That’s exactly the question EAB’s Larisa Hussak and Hubbard sought to answer in their presentation at this year’s CONNECTED Conference.
What I found most noteworthy during the presentation was the notion that part-time student completion is a race against time. In other words, the longer part-time students are enrolled, the more chances there are for “life to get in the way.”
And as Hubbard began listing all of the potential causes of part-time student stop out—examples of “life getting in the way”—I could see a wave of nods from the presentation attendees that seemed to signal, “Yes, these are situations we are all too familiar with.”
From condensing credit accumulation to helping working students overcome schedule misalignment, here are three innovative programs Hubbard and Hussak touched on during their CONNECTED presentation that help community colleges adapt to the realities of the part-time student experience.
1: Compressed terms
While it’s not uncommon for community colleges to condense courses into shorter terms, Chemeketa Community College in Oregon is taking acceleration one step further by offering five-week hybrid courses. These courses are offered in multiple subjects, and though half of the course is taught online, students still attend class as often as they would in a traditional course.
The compressed terms allow students to sustain their momentum and accumulate credits faster. And compared with students in Chemeketa’s 11-week, face-to-face courses, students in the accelerated hybrid courses earn higher grades (3.10 GPA vs. 2.97 GPA) and are more likely to report receiving “a lot” of feedback (47% of students vs. 41%)—all while reporting the same average gain in content knowledge (39%).
2: Weekend courses
A traditional college schedule doesn’t always align with part-time students’ work schedules—especially work schedules that are unpredictable or subject to change. So Miami Dade College began offering weekend courses.
In fact, students can obtain an associate degree by attending class exclusively over the weekend. “We rebuilt the schedule, but our students needed more than just a parking spot and a classroom,” recalls Jackie Peña, Miami Dade’s former dean of academic affairs. “It was no longer just weekend courses but a full weekend college.”
While many college leaders assume faculty and staff will be resistant to weekend courses and that operational costs will be high, Miami Dade reports that faculty were enthusiastic about teaching over the weekend. And the college spent zero additional dollars implementing and sustaining the weekend college program.
3: Blended learning
Through blended learning, students get the best of both worlds: the engagement of face-to-face learning with the flexibility of online learning. And at Lakeshore Technical College (LTC), students are able to transition between the two types of learning as needed. For example, if a part-time student loses childcare and can’t sit for class, she can watch a recording of the class session online when it’s convenient for her. And she isn’t penalized for doing so. Since this flexible program was implemented, LTC has seen the retention gap between full- and part-time students close by 63%.
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