“The largest chunk of students in the part-time category are the ones taking less than six credits. We’ve found that the less classes students take the poorer they do in terms of completion rates.”
Full-time enrollment rates within the state’s community colleges, which is below the national average, was among concerns highlighted at a Nevada Board of Regents committee meeting Thursday.
At least 12 credit hours per semester, which typically equates to four classes, is considered full time. However, 15 credits per semester is encouraged because 30 credits per year means on-time degree completion.
About 73 percent of students enrolled in Nevada community colleges are part time, compared to 61 percent of community college students nationwide, according to a report presented at the Regents’ Community College Committee meeting.
Western Nevada College had 34 percent of its students enrolled full time in fall 2016, while Great Basin College and College of Southern Nevada had a 27 percent full time enrollment. Truckee Meadows Community College had 26 percent of its students going full time.
When accounting for all Nevada’s community college students enrolled in 2009, 21 percent of full-time students then had earned associates degrees by 2017 and 7.2 percent of part-time students had their degrees, according to the Nevada System of Higher Education.
About 26 percent of full-time students and almost 15 percent of part-timers transferred. Slightly more than 3 percent of full- and part-time students were still enrolled eight years later. It’s unknown what happened to the remaining 75 percent of part-timers and 49 percent of full-time students.
Nate Mackinnon, vice chancellor for community colleges, said he’s unsure whether students who earned skills certificates but not degrees were captured in that cohort. However, he said students who take non-credit classes wouldn’t show up in the data.
NSHE has adopted the nationwide “15 to Finish” message, promoting full-time enrollment in community colleges, which increases student retention rates.
At WNC, the one-year retention rate for its approximately 3,600 students was 63 percent for those enrolled full time and 39 percent for part timers. Three-year graduation rates were 28 percent for full timers versus 12 percent for those going part time.
“The largest chunk of students in the part-time category are the ones taking less than six credits. We’ve found that the less classes students take the poorer they do in terms of completion rates,” WNC President Vincent Solis told Regents. “One of the things that’s interesting about this is our faculty members don’t necessarily work with a part time student any differently than they do with a full time student. There’s no way for them to know who’s who in their classes.”
However, community college officials say 15 credit hours per semester can be a tough sell to non-traditional students who are employed, have transportation issues, are parents searching for affordable childcare, and have problems accessing support services.
“What happens is that part-time students have other distractions,” Solis said. “They have work, they have family, they’ve got ‘fill in the blank.’ Work seems to be the largest factor in what deters students from going full time.”
Availability of year-round classes, faculty advising, meetings with students (and sometimes their parents), peer-to-peer tutoring, independent study, on-site childcare center, financial aid incentive grants and online courses are among a few things community colleges have rolled out.
Melissa Deadmond, TMCC associate dean of assessment and planning, said the college has taken steps to assist part time students.
“We try to schedule our courses in part-time, student-friendly ways. For example, we offer seven-week mini sessions and often courses are linked and offered at the same time of day,” Deadmond said. “So if a student can commit to a certain time of day for 15 weeks, they are able to complete two classes instead of one in that semester time frame.
“As work schedules change for our part-time students, and they often do, sometimes that prohibits them from starting with the regular semester. So we offer a number of classes that start four weeks into the semester and run for 12 weeks, so they have a second opportunity to take classes that particular semester.”
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.