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The Full-Time Edge

We’ve known for a long time that full-time students are more likely to graduate. Now comes evidence that even one semester of full-time attendance correlates with higher and faster success rates for all kinds of students. Please have a look at this well-presented report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

The report makes it clear that we can’t expect all community college students to enroll with a full load, due to their work and family situations.

Here are the main reasons why even one semester is beneficial, according to the report:

■  Many colleges have different requirements for full-time and part-time students, such as mandating orientation for only first-time, full-time students. Orientation introduces students to a range of services and supports, all of which lead to a more engaging experience for students who use them. Because it is more likely to be mandatory only for full-time students, part-time students are less likely to attend and become familiar with these services.
■  Full-time students spend more time on campus so they are more likely to be engaged with campus activities and to use support services. They also are more likely to be on campus during the day, when more services and more faculty are available.
■  Full-time students have more opportunities to build relationships with other students, collaborate on projects, or study in groups.
■  Full-time students are more likely to be exposed to full-time faculty, opening more possibilities for building connections with faculty outside of class.

As you might expect, the organization publishing the report emphasizes all sorts of student engagement on campus—the group’s specialty. There are likely a host of other influential variables that are important as well.

The takeaway for faculty and other individuals involved in the advising process might be a shift in strategy. Often when we meet with students in “at-risk” categories, especially if their academic record and placement scores are weak, we may have a tendency to advise the student to ease into college work, part-time. The report suggests we might want to reconsider this advice. We should ask such students if there is any way they can attend full-time, and direct them to financial aid programs geared in this direction. Certainly we can at least share evidence that their odds improve with full-time attendance.

Please look over the report, as it contains a number of testimonials and examples of successful programs around the country designed to enroll more students full-time. The strategy is not for everyone, but appears to be a solid plan to improve student success for entering freshmen.

One semester can make a difference, even if the student attends part-time subsequently.