One of the reasons community college students often don't graduate relates to their part-time status. Most of our students are in this category—a fact college leaders stress to policy makers.
At least two factors are probably in play: With a longer stretch of time, it is more likely that part-time students' precarious economic and family situations will jump up and bite them. "Life gets in the way" is the way we often put it. Secondly, a part-time commitment is, by definition, more casual psychologically, even if they have no other option. This is tough to quantify, but part-time students often have less skin in the game, so to speak, than full-timers, especially those attending residential schools, whether the institution is selective or not.
You will note that these two factors may not be related to academic preparedness. Even strong students who attend part-time are more likely to drop out.
A new school in New York City, Guttman Community College, is attempting to bend the curve with some major structural changes, as reported by Seth Zweifler in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
You can peruse the article for the various components of their program, but one of the most interesting is their policy of compelling first-time students to enroll full-time. Also, students are not allowed to choose from the full menu of classes when they register.
Obviously there are financial implications here, but if you get better results with a higher up-front investment in student aid, work-study programs, and frequent mandatory advisement, such a strategy might be worth a pilot study in Texas. If initial enrollment (and hence funding) goes down under such a plan, that would be a problem, but still…
Here is a brief passage from the article:
The program caters to a predominantly low-income, first-generation student body; 77 percent of first-year students receive Pell Grant support, with 54 percent of that group receiving the maximum Pell amount, according to the college.
"After they complete a summer bridge program, they have a very programmed first year," says Scott E. Evenbeck, Guttman’s founding president and a prominent expert on education assessment. "If we know that choice shuts many students down, why do we so often give them a catalog with 10,000 courses and tell them to pick some?" During the bridge program, students are introduced to learning communities called "houses." Each house consists of several cohorts of students, who attend all of their classes together.
The college’s inaugural first-year class saw a retention rate of nearly 75 percent from the fall of 2012 to the fall of 2013, on target with the 75-percent goal. Nationally, community colleges located in large urban centers have averaged a one-year retention rate of 57 percent, according to CUNY data.