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Insight Paper

New Equity Data Shows you Should Focus on Part-Time Students


Here’s a sobering fact about the community college part-time student population: 47% of part-time students believe they will graduate within 1-2 years, but only 8% of part-time students actually complete their degree within four years.

While we’ve made strides in improving college access for historically underrepresented student populations, the completion gap has actually worsened in some cases, or it remains virtually unchanged.

Today’s students are already reframing the way we think about campus diversity—students who are single parents, are military-affiliated, have disclosed disabilities, or seek financial aid—but one commonality these students all share is the likelihood that they will have limited time on campus and added obstacles blocking them from completing their degree.

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This resource is part of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Initiatives in Higher Education Resource Center.



of community college students will enroll part-time or stop out at least once before they graduate

In fact, 83% of community college students will enroll part-time or stop out at least once before they graduate. This statistic, coupled with declining college enrollment, means that college leaders can no longer afford to focus solely on full-time students, as success of the part-time population is a critical element of sustainability in a climate of increased competition, reduced enrollment, and performance-based funding.

In our recently released whitepaper, we share the latest data from EAB’s community college research team to highlight key areas of opportunity to meet the equity imperative by focusing on technology-enabled support strategies to improve completion rates for part-time students. Download the white paper or explore takeaways below.

Existing Onboarding Processes Hinder Part-Time Enrollment

Community colleges lose more than half of their applicants before the first day of class. The complexity of the onboarding process presents challenges, even for the most determined applicant. For part-time students, and especially those who are first-generation and low-income, the process can be overwhelming.

“I can’t call off work just to be on hold and then told to go to a different campus for financial aid…. If I could fix things over the phone or get told on the phone exactly what was needed I would be in classes right now.”

Student survey response

Students are often unaware of the necessary steps to complete enrollment, and since 70% of parttime students work more than 20 hours per week, time spent on campus is limited. Many students lose momentum as they face unexplained delays, generic information, confusing terminology, and transfers between college departments.

To successfully navigate these challenges, students—part-time students, in particular—need individualized guidance throughout matriculation, nudging them along as they move through each step of the onboarding process.

Academic Planning Tools Must Adapt to Part-Time Students

In an effort to promote full-time enrollment, colleges often present academic plans in term-by-term formats designed for full-time students. These plans exclude information about requisite course combinations, which makes it difficult for part-time students to interpret essential sequences.

To further complicate matters, many students who exclusively attend college part-time have unrealistic expectations about how their pace will affect time to graduation. Yet, in many colleges, the only way students can confidently complete academic plans is by seeing their advisors—a challenge for students who can’t spend additional time on campus. Since part-time students comprise such a large proportion of the enrollment, information must be adaptable to their circumstances.

To solve this challenge, students need access to tools that reflect their competing priorities and part-time enrollment, allowing them to develop a right-fit academic plan that integrates critical information about academic requirements, requisite courses, and time to degree.

Provide Traditional Student Experiences in Nontraditional Formats

Competing priorities make it difficult for part-time students to benefit from the same experiences as traditional students. Evening classes often lack the same student support services, and part-time students often struggle to engage with peers, staff, or faculty on campus.

Technology can play an essential role in providing resources and engaging students who spend most of their time off campus. It provides an avenue for bringing the campus to the palms of students’ hands, providing a network of support to help students solve problems and seek help.

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