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To Reduce Achievement Gap, Improve Completion Rates for Part-Time Students

Reducing the achievement gap at community colleges among part-time students is key to reducing the overall gap, according to a new report from EAB.

The new report, Reframing the Question of Equity, finds that black and Hispanic students are more likely to enroll in community college part-time — at rates of 81 and 84 percent, respectively — than their white peers, 72 percent of whom enroll part-time. At the same time, enrolling in classes part-time leads to a 39 percent reduction in completion rates for Hispanic students, a 31 percent reduction in completion rates for black students and a 29 percent reduction rate in completion for white students.

Combine those disparities and it's clear that improving completion rates for part-time students would narrow the overall achievement gap. In fact, "eliminating the achievement gap among part-time student populations would decrease the gap between black and white students by 13 percentage points," according to information released by EAB. "The gap between Hispanic and white students would decrease by 7 percentage points. However, if full-time black and Hispanic students graduated at the same rates as full-time white students, the overall achievement gaps would decrease by just 1 to 5 percentage points."

"There's a huge opportunity here to advance equity in education if we can provide better support to part-time students," said Christina Hubbard, director of strategic research at EAB, in a prepared statement. "And while many of the advances in community college student success have been focused on full-time students, we see some progressive institutions molding those practices to serve the unique needs of part-timers."

The report suggests that one way to tackle the problem is through academic pathways. Currently, most academic pathways are designed for full-time students and leave their part-time counterparts without support in determining which classes they should enroll in and what their expected time to completion may be. Using data to inform new policies and practices may help to improve completion rates for part-time students, according to EAB.

Another issue for part-time students identified by the report is student onboarding. More than half — 56 percent — of part-time students are lost during onboarding prior to enrollment.

"Students are often unaware of the necessary steps to complete enrollment, and since 70 percent of part-time students work more than 20 hours per week, time spent on campus is limited," according to the report. "Many students lose momentum as they face unexplained delays, generic information, confusing terminology, and transfers between college departments."

Trident Technical College tackled this problem with the help of technology. Informed by student success data, the school reformatted its classes into seven-week-long mini-semesters, which helped to improve pass rates, but increased pressure on their student advising systems owing to the increased student demand on existing staff. In response, the school improved its onboarding process, including replacing face-to-face orientations with virtual orientations.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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