Study Questions Whether Full-Time Enrollment Is Best for Everyone

Report: “Non-First-Time Student Persistence Patterns”

Organizations: InsideTrack, American Council on Education, NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, University Professional and Continuing Education Association, and National Student Clearinghouse

Summary: Most experts agree that first-time students are more likely to graduate on time from community colleges when they are enrolled full time. That has led some policy makers and nonprofit advocacy groups to encourage, and in some cases to require, students in certain programs to take 15 credit hours per semester.

But a new study finds that students who return to college after extended breaks are more likely to graduate if they combine full- and part-time schedules. Specifically, it found that:

  • Returning students often balance family, work, and other commitments that fluctuate over their college careers. Balancing part-time and full-time schedules helps them adjust to changes in their schedules and circumstances.
  • In one cohort of students entering from 2005 to 2008, 15.8 percent of those with a mixed-enrollment pattern earned associate degrees within six years, while 10.2 percent of those attending exclusively full time did, and only 6.5 percent of those attending exclusively part time did. When it came to bachelor’s-degree programs, exclusively full-time students had the best outcomes.
  • Colleges and states serving similar students had very different outcomes, which are detailed in a report on the study.

Bottom Line: The report raises questions, the researchers say, about the efficacy of mandatory “15 credit per semester” policies at some community colleges.

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