Returning Students With Combined Enrollment More Likely To Complete Two-Year Degrees

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

Non-first-time students who combine full-time and part-time enrollment over the course of their academic career are less likely to drop out and more likely to complete a two-year program, according to new data from a national initiative to benchmark persistence of this group of students.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between InsideTrack, the American Council on Education (ACE), NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and the National Student Clearinghouse. The groups analyzed National Student Clearinghouse data for two cohorts of students to benchmark patterns of persistence of non-first-time (NFT) students, as well as address the low amount of publicly available data on the success of adults who return to higher education.

The analysis shows that as of August 14, 2014, 15.8 percent of students in the first cohort (August 15, 2005, to August 14, 2008) who combined part- and full-time enrollment completed their associate’s degree, compared with 10.2 percent of only full-time enrollees and 6.5 percent of part-time enrollees. The gaps were similar among students in the second cohort (August 15, 2008, to August 14, 2013), with 3.3 percent of combined enrollment students completing their associate’s degree, followed by 2.8 percent of full-time students and 1.9 percent of part-time students.

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

The data also shows higher persistence rates among students who combine their enrollment than students just enrolled part-time or full-time, with rates among these groups in the first cohort of 18.2 percent, 7.6 percent, and 3.6 percent, respectively. The second cohort had rates of 53.4 percent, 22.7 percent, and 33 percent among combined, part-time, and full-time enrollees.

According to InsideTrack, the data may raise questions about how effective mandatory “15 credit per semester” policies are at encouraging persistence in two-year programs, as well as other issues.

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

Persistence and completion rates have become even more important in recent months as they are listed among the criteria being considered in the college ratings system framework, released by the Obama administration in December 2014. Kruger’s concerns about outcomes echo those expressed in NASFAA’s “Peers in PIRS” report, which focuses on the challenges associated with grouping and comparing peer institutions under the forthcoming ratings system. 

“Having an accurate picture of student outcomes at similar institutions is a worthy goal,” NASFAA President Justin Draeger said when the report was released. “But this must be done thoughtfully lest we do more harm than good. We know that comparing institutions—even those with seemingly similar missions—is not as simple as it appears. Our research shows that student demographics and needs vary widely, even at schools with very similar missions.”

What are your experiences with combined full- and part-time enrollment? Do you find having the flexibility to take fewer credits per semester in some semesters increases a student’s changes of persisting and receiving a degree?


Publication Date: 1/28/2015

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