Full-time college enrollment may not work for all

Research indicates that colleges may want to evaluate credit-per-semester requirements

college-completionFindings from an effort to benchmark the persistence patterns of non-first-time (NFT) college students indicate that NFT students are less likely to drop out and more likely to complete an associate degree if they combine full-time and part-time enrollment. The findings could renew discussions about the efficacy of mandatory “15 credit per semester” policies at 2-year programs.

The benchmarking initiative is a cooperative effort between the ACE, InsideTrack, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and the National Student Clearinghouse. It is designed to begin addressing the lack of publicly available data on the success of adults returning to college.

“Returning students are typically balancing work, family and other commitments that ebb and flow in intensity over the course of their academic career,” says Dave Jarrat, vice president of marketing at InsideTrack. “Mixing part-time and full-time enrollment enables these students to persist through the inevitable fluctuations in their life obligations.”

(Next page: College enrollment patterns)

The new results, which will be presented today at the Summit for Online Leadership & Strategy hosted by UPCEA and ACE, also show some interesting shifts in state-level completion rates and enrollment patterns for NFT students.

For instance, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, New Hampshire and Utah saw a decline in relative outcomes, but Washington, D.C. saw the biggest loss (+20.8 percent above to -0.2 percent). Arkansas, Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, and Oregon improved relative outcomes; but only Arizona and Illinois improved AND are above average (Arizona went from +2.5 percent to +5.6 percent; Illinois went from -7.0 percent to +1.8 percent).

The results also revealed interesting trend lines in market share of adult students across states. For instance, Arizona also gained the most market share among NFT students enrolled since Aug. 15, 2008 (1.4 percent to 2.4 percent of total NFT enrollment), while California lost the most market share (18.9 percent to 16.9 percent of total NFT enrollment).

For more information on the study, click here.

The four organizations that launched this initiative will continue their analysis of the data through February 2015 and then release the entire dataset to the public.

“Improving our higher education system is in everyone’s interest, and we are looking forward to sharing further findings and all of the data with the entire higher education community and the general public,” said Deborah Seymour, assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. “We collectively invested in this project so that students, institutions, and other critical stakeholders might benefit from its outputs.”

“The data raise many important issues – for example, why institutions and states serving similar populations have substantially different outcomes,” notes NASPA President Kevin Kruger. “We need to look deeper at the underlying causes and understand what we can do to improve support for returning students.”

The findings are based on analysis of two cohorts of data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The first cohort consists of 4.5 million students who re-enrolled in college between Aug. 15, 2005 and Aug. 14, 2008 after at least one year away from higher education. The second cohort consists of 7 million students who re-enrolled between Aug. 15, 2008 and Aug. 14, 2013. Both data sets include results segmented by level of institution, age, gender, geographic location, enrollment intensity and the type of degree being pursued.

The group will release the dataset via the members’ websites in early March.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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