Getting to Full-Time College

According to a new report, older adults who want additional training in order to get better jobs should go to college. But they should be going to college full time, not on a part-time basis, as many of them do now.

The problem with part-time college is that it’s basically a recipe for dropping out. As Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones wrote for this magazine back last year:

Speed is not the defining quality of most higher education institutions, including community colleges. It takes the average community college student five years to complete a two-year associate’s degree, and four years to earn a one-year certificate.

Part of the reason students take so long to earn degrees has to do with the preparation. The other part, however, is that college is expensive. If someone attends part-time, tuition is not only cheaper; he can work at the same time.

Except it doesn’t work out so well. According to the same article,

The longer it takes to get a degree, the fewer people get one, notes education and training consultant Brian Bosworth, because students lose heart and “life intervenes.” Not surprisingly, completion rates are even lower in community colleges than they are in four-year colleges. Nationwide, only 23 percent of full-time community college students graduate in three years or less.

So maybe the solution is just to provide more money, to make full-time attendance more feasible. According to the new report, by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC):

The… evaluation randomly assigned approximately 1,500 low-income students to one of two program groups eligible to receive up to either $2,600 or $3,900 in scholarships, or to a control group eligible only for usual financial aid. Comparing outcomes of the combined program groups with control group outcomes measures the impact of the scholarship program. Comparing outcomes for the two program groups speaks to the relative importance of additional funding for summer attendance.

Even though the scholarship required only part-time attendance, full-time enrollment increased 5.6 percentage points (7.9 percent) in the first semester and 7.4 percentage points (14 percent) in the second semester. Students may have used the funds to purchase more education.

Of course the really important thing to figure out here is whether or not more money made students any more likely to actually complete college. MDRC doesn’t know yet, but that’ll apparently be coming in a subsequent report.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer