The Struggle is Real: Part-Time Students and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment

Our previous posts in this blog series on graduation rates using the IPEDS Outcome Measures (OM) data have concentrated on students who initially enrolled as full-time students. Across public universities in Texas in the 2014 cohort, 59% of first-time-in-college (FTIC), full-time students and 68% of full-time transfer students graduated with a bachelor’s degree within 8 years of starting at the same university. One of the features of the OM data is that graduation outcomes for part-time students are also reported for each institution in the IPEDS database. Of the more than 160K FTIC and transfer students entering Texas public universities in the 2014 cohort, more than 20% (32,841) of those initially enrolled as part-time students. Part-time status is defined as fewer than 12 semester credit hours during the first full term (fall or spring). With 1 out of 5 incoming students considered part-time in 2014, how did they fare in terms of completing a bachelor’s degree in a timely fashion? That’s the question this post will answer. NoteBecause the OM data includes 8-year graduation rate data, we continue to use the most recent data from the 2014 cohort in our analysis of transfer student graduation rates.

Statewide Averages for Public Universities in Texas

The stacked bar charts below show data for 4-, 6-, and 8-year graduation rates across all public universities in Texas for part-time students who were either first-time entering or transfer students and who completed their bachelor’s degree at the original university at which they enrolled. The “clock” for measuring time-to-degree started in fall 2014 with initial enrollment. Degree completion status was calculated at the end of AY2018 for 4-year, AY2020 for 6-year, and AY2022 for 8-year graduation rates.

  • The statewide average for first-time, part-time students who completed their degree within 4 years of initial enrollment was 19% in the 2014 cohort. That percentage jumped to 37% for the “Bachelors in 6 Years” rate, bumping up slightly to 40% when the timeframe extends to 8 years after entering the university.
  • By comparison, 43% of transfer, part-time students completed their bachelor’s degree within 4 years of transfer. The statewide average increased to 52% at 6-years post-enrollment and 55% at 8-year post-enrollment at the originating university for part-time transfers.
Graduation Rates for Public Universities in Texas: Part-Time Students
FTIC Part-Time Students
  • In the first university-level visualization below (FTIC PT), we can see that Texas A&M University has the highest rate-of-success for part-time FTIC students at the 6-year (80%) and 8-year (82%) graduation checkpoints in the OM data. Texas A&M’s 34-percentage point increase from 4- to 6-year graduation rates is also the highest gain of all public universities in Texas.  
  • One-half of the 32 public universities shown in the first chart below have an 8-year graduation rate below 33% for their incoming FTIC students who started as part-time enrollees in the 2014 cohort.
  • The campus-level counts for FTIC part-time students ranged from 2 (Prairie View A&M University) to 1,352 (Texas A&M University) in this cohort. 
Transfer Part-Time Students
  • Texas A&M University is the most successful public 4-year institution in Texas in terms of part-time transfer enrollees in the 2014 cohort with 69% (4-year), 77% (6-year), and 78% (8-year) graduation rates.
  • Tarleton State University had the second-highest graduation percentages at each of the three graduation checkpoints: 58% (4-year), 63% (6-year), and 65% (8-year) for the part-time transfer cohort in 2014.
  • There were 9 of the 35 universities that did not graduate at least 50% of their transfer students who enrolled as part-time students within 8 years of initial enrollment.
  • The campus-level counts for part-time transfer students ranged from 74 (Texas A&M University-Kingsville) to 4,139 (University of Texas at Arlington) in this cohort. 

So What?

When it comes to part-time enrollment status at time-of-entry, there are far more transfer students who start as part-time students than do first-time-in-college students at public universities in Texas. Of the 32,841 part-time starting students in the 2014 cohort, 84% of them were transfer students. Out of the 79K total transfer students in the 2014 cohort, 35% of them (27,507) started as part-time students, while just 6% of the FTIC students (5,334 of 78,061) started as part-time students in this cohort.  Comparing graduation outcomes of part-time students to their full-time counterparts highlights one of the greatest concerns when students initially enroll in less than 12 hours as undergraduate students. Even when extending to the 8-year graduation mark, bachelor’s completion rates for FTIC part-time students trail FTIC full-time students by 19 percentage points (40% to 59%, respectively) in the 2014 cohort. For transfer students, that gap is closer at 13 percentage points (55% for part-time transfers versus 68% for full-time transfers). 

While intensity of enrollment is a strong differentiating factor in terms of successful completion of a bachelor’s degree, another variable in the IPEDS OM data is likely a contributing factor as well: Pell grant status. We will explore the combination of enrollment status (FTIC vs transfer), enrollment intensity (full-time vs part-time), and Pell status (recipient vs non-recipient) in our next blog post in this series.

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