college graduation caps soaring in the sky

5 ways to improve support for part-time students

This critical student population needs targeted support to close achievement gaps

Although community colleges have started to enroll more economically-disadvantaged students, those students are not graduating at rates comparable to their peers, according to an EAB whitepaper, Reframing the Question of Equity. What’s worse, they drop out and retain debt.

Community college students are increasingly diverse, and traditionally underrepresented student populations have increased. Gaps in college access and enrollment have started to shrink. But while underrepresented minorities are more likely to attend community colleges than their white peers, too few of them graduate, leaving gaping degree attainment gaps.

Many students now enrolling in community colleges are low-income and first-generation students–with those two risk factors, they are four times more likely to drop out after their first year.

Because campuses see increased diversity, the whitepaper notes, community college leaders must focus on equitable outcomes. Focusing on part-time students can help shrink achievement gaps, because part-time student populations include some of the most at-risk students.

If part-time black students graduated at the same rates as part-time white students, the overall achievement gap between black and which students would improve by 62 percent. If part-time Hispanic students graduated at the same rates as part-time white students, the achievement gap would improve by 58 percent.

The whitepaper offers a number of approaches to focus on supporting part-time students:

1. One strategy to reduce achievement gaps is found in engaging students who have limited time on campus.

2. Addressing institutional barriers that disproportionately affect part-time students is another strategy.

3. Offering a clear route from application to enrollment by reducing the complexity of the onboarding process and offering individualized guidance can help part-time students who may otherwise be overwhelmed by the requirements to complete enrollment.

4. Ensure academic planning tools are adaptable for use by part-time students. Academic plans are often presented in full-time term-by-term formats. Part-time students need adapted plans that take into consideration their pace and competing priorities.

5. Focus on delivering student-centric student experiences. Technology can help in providing resources and engagement for students who spend most of their time off campus but who are on campus at uncommon times, such as for evening classes, which often lack the same student support services as daytime classes.

Laura Ascione