More Engaged Part-Timers

Annual survey of community college students finds key gains for a key demographic.

March 9, 2015

More part-time community college students are coming to class prepared, working with instructors and participating with other students.

Those findings are part of a broader trend in which part-time students at community colleges are becoming more engaged in their learning, based on a report released today by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Some of the highlights from the report include:

  • Part-time students who reported making a class presentation during the spring semester increased from 60 percent to 67 percent from 2004 to 2014.
  • The share of part-time students who discussed career plans with an instructor or adviser increased from 61 percent to 70 percent over the same time period.
  • Part-time students who reported working with classmates outside of class increased from 52 percent to 57 percent.

The part-time numbers are significant for two-year public institutions, as they make up 62 percent of the student body. Class presentations, working with classmates, completing assignments and discussing career plans or long-term goals are just a few indicators used to measure engagement, which is an indicator for learning and college quality.

"Part-time students’ lives are complex. They’re coming and taking less hours. Their journey to completion will be longer... but that’s all community college students. They have complex responsibilities like one, two or three jobs and they often have families,” said Evelyn Waiwaiole, director at the CCCSE.

The center has collected community college student data since 2004 from about 900 institutions across the country.

Waiwaiole attributes the increases to colleges getting better at understanding the needs of their student body. That includes keeping campuses open through the evening for students who have morning or afternoon responsibilities elsewhere or increasing support and advising.

For example, Palo Alto College in San Antonio used CCCSE data to help develop the Alamo Advise model, which increased the number of advisers on campus to reach more students.

But Waiwaiole said there is still need for improvement, especially when it comes to awareness and interest in transfer programs to four-year institutions.

That data wasn’t included in the report, but the survey reported an increase of one percentage point, she said, adding that she wished it could have been a larger increase.

“Maybe (students) haven’t been informed of their options,” Waiwaiole said.

But colleges, from administrators to faculty, have been working to improve engagement numbers.

“We’ve come to recognize what our blind spots are and begun to work on them,” she said. “That’s why you see these trends moving the direction they are.”


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