Part-Time Students Less Likely to Complete College

A new report reveals part-time students are disproportionately BIPOC, community college students, and over the age of 25.

Published September 7, 2022

Edited by Raneem Taleb-Agha
Part-Time Students Less Likely to Complete College
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by mapodile / E+ / Getty Images

  • Eight years after enrolling at four-year institutions, just 47% of part-time students had graduated.
  • The majority of Black and Latino/a students are enrolled part-time, accounting for 37% of all part-time students.
  • By attending part-time for one semester, Black and Latino/a completion rates each dropped more than 30%.

College completion rates continue to grow every year, but reports often only look at first-time, full-time students. For the nearly 40% of part-time college students who are enrolled each year, completion rates are not as promising.

A new report from Complete College America (CCA) analyzed the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Outcomes Measures Survey and found that part-time students are significantly less likely than their full-time counterparts to complete college at all types of institutions.

Source: Complete College America

Eight years after enrolling in 2011-2012, 85% of full-time students attending four-year flagship institutions had graduated, compared to just 47% of part-time students.

Even four years after enrolling at four-year flagship institutions, full-time students graduated at a rate 15 percentage points higher than part-time students (49% vs. 34%).

At community colleges, where the majority of students are enrolled part-time, just 21% had graduated eight years after enrolling compared to 35% of full-time students.

Black and Latino/a Students Are More Likely to Be Enrolled Part-Time

Of the more than 7.5 million college students who are enrolled part-time, the majority (52%) are white. But a disproportionately high amount of part-time students are Black, Latino/a, and over the age of 25.

More than half of students between the ages of 20 and 24 attend college part time (55%), but nearly two-thirds of students over the age of 25 do the same (64%).

Similarly, more than 60% of Black and Latino/a students are enrolled part-time, compared to just 48% of white students.

Source: Complete College America

At community colleges, higher percentages of Black and Latino/a students are likely to be enrolled part-time for at least one semester than white students. By attending part-time for just one semester, completion rates for these students decreased significantly.

Source: Complete College America

This is far from the first time Black and Latino/a students have found themselves at a disadvantage in higher education in comparison to their white counterparts. In addition to having lower completion rates and higher chances of being enrolled part-time, Black and Latino/a students are often far more likely than their white peers to be enrolled in majors with a lower return on investment (ROI). This leads to higher chances of these students being underemployed and earning less in the future.

Enhancing Completion Rates for Part-Time Students

There are a number of reasons why part-time students often take longer to complete college or end up not completing their degree at all. Students who enroll part-time tend to do so to balance other responsibilities, work full or part time, or reduce tuition costs, making it difficult to complete necessary credit hours and extending the time they spend in school. But ultimately, CCA argues that many institutions are not set up to best accommodate these students.

By increasing the number of courses offered outside of traditional working hours, shortening the length of courses, and providing additional aid and resources for part-time students who need financial support or other assistance, schools can increase completion rates for these students.

Most importantly, CCA suggests that helping part-time students develop a realistic academic plan that accounts for their outside responsibilities will help students obtain as many credits as possible.