The Hazards of Attending College Part Time

Last Updated Sep 27, 2011 7:21 PM EDT

College graduation rates in this country are terrible, but they are far worse for the majority of students who attend college part time.

That's a big take-away message from an alarming new study, which was released today, that suggests that the longer students stay in school, the less likely they are to earn a college degree.

While the typical image of a college student is someone who lives in a dorm, attends school full time and has most of the bills paid by their parents, the reality is starkly different. About 75% of students are commuters, who hold down jobs and juggle family obligations as they pursue their college dreams.

The report, released by a nonprofit called Complete College America, is a big deal because it is focused on the college progress -- or lack of progress - of the majority of American college students. Strangely enough, the federal government doesn't keep track of the graduation rates of part-time college students or those who transfer to other schools. The government only compiles the graduation rates of full-time students.

The report, which was funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and others, is an attempt to fill this grad-rate void and shine a light on the difficulty many Americans experience earning a degree.

The Graduation Odds

The research, which relied on graduation rate statistics from 33 states, illustrated how difficult it is for students to earn a college degree when they are attending school part time. For instance, only 7.4% of these students earned an associate degree within four years while just one out of four part-timers earned a bachelor's degree within eight years. In comparison, 58% of full-time students graduate with a bachelor's degree in six years. I realize this isn't an impressive figure either.

Why the Graduation Delay?

What are the hang ups?

Schools often don't make it easy for part-time students to attend.

Students are taking excessive credits. Frankly, I think it's a scandal that students routinely have troubles getting other schools to accept their credits from community colleges and other four-year institutions when transferring.

Remedial courses are a road block that keeps many students from making progress. Half of students at community college must take non-credit remedial classes, as well as one in five students seeking a bachelor's degree. The report recommended that remedial work be embedded into for-credit classes.

And I'd like to add my own reason for why its tough slogging for part-timers: Because the federal government isn't keeping track of these students' progress, it's easy for schools to avoid making it a top priority.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.

More on The College Solution:

The Scandal in College Graduation Rates


Why Your Child Won't Graduate in 4 Years
Graduation rate image by Stack Coordination. CC 2.0.

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