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Part-Time Undergraduates in Postsecondary Education: 200304 Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Report

Persistence and Degree Attainment After 6 Years

This report uses longitudinal data from the 1996/01 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01) to examine persistence and degree attainment 6 years after students entered postsecondary education.3 Consistent with earlier research (Berkner, He, and Cataldi 2002; Carroll 1989; O’Toole, Stratton, and Wetzel 2003), this report found that part-time enrollment was negatively associated with long-term degree attainment and persistence. Looking at 1995–96 beginning students who attended school exclusively part time for the duration of their enrollment through 2000–01, 15 percent had completed a degree or certificate by 2001; none had earned a bachelor’s degree; 27 percent persisted (either had earned a degree or were still enrolled); a total of 73 percent had left without earning a degree; and 46 percent had left during the first year (figure F). In contrast, 64 percent of exclusively full-time students had completed a degree or certificate, 44 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree, 72 percent persisted, 28 percent had left without a degree, and 12 percent had left during the first year. Although part-time students who looked like full-time students appeared to be more successful than other part-time students with respect to these same outcomes, they lagged behind their full-time counterparts in overall degree attainment (45 vs. 64 percent) and bachelor’s degree completion (25 vs. 44 percent).

Part-time enrollment was negatively associated with students’ postsecondary outcomes even after controlling for a wide range of related factors, including students’ demographic and family backgrounds, academic preparation, and enrollment and employment characteristics. Regardless of whether they looked like full-time students, exclusively part-time students lagged far behind their full-time peers in terms of overall degree completion, bachelor’s degree completion, and persistence toward a degree after controlling for many related factors. Mixed enrollment students also lagged behind their full-time peers with respect to bachelor’s degree completion, although significant differences in their rates for overall degree attainment and persistence could not be detected after controlling for related factors.

Were factors related to degree attainment and persistence consistent across student groups? To address this question, separate commonality analyses were conducted for full-time students, part-time students who looked like full-time students, and other part-time students. The results of these analyses reveal both similarities and differences among these groups of students. First, across all three groups, some factors consistently had a negative association with students’ postsecondary outcomes. These factors reflect poor academic preparation (i.e., remedial coursetaking and low scores on college entrance examinations), low commitment to postsecondary education (i.e., taking breaks in enrollment, low expectations for postsecondary education), concentrations in subbaccalaureate degree programs, and priority given to work over study (i.e., students always considering themselves as employees or changing their primary role from students to employees). It is noteworthy that although students who took breaks in their enrollment had lower rates of degree attainment across all three groups, these students consistently had higher rates of persistence.

Not all factors were consistently related to students’ postsecondary outcomes across all three groups of students. For example, gender was a significant factor (favoring females) for full-time students, but not for the two subgroups of part-time students. Full-time students who initially attended private doctoral institutions had better postsecondary outcomes than their peers who entered public doctoral institutions; however, for the two subgroups of part-time students, those initially attending private 4-year nondoctoral institutions had better outcomes than those who entered public doctoral institutions. Full-time students without degree goals had lower rates of degree attainment than those with bachelor’s degree expectations; but this pattern was not observed among the two subgroups of part-time students (i.e., nondegree and bachelor’s degree seekers both had relatively low rates of degree completion). In summary, while some factors had consistent relationships with postsecondary outcomes across all three groups, others did not. This information may be useful to postsecondary administrators in assisting them to design programs to help various groups of students persist in their postsecondary studies and attain a degree.


3Because BPS:96/01 covers a longer interval of enrollment data than NPSAS:2004, the sample included a higher percentage of students who changed their enrollment status (i.e., students with mixed enrollment intensity) than in NPSAS:2004 (41 vs. 16 percent). Overall, 59 percent of BPS:96/01 students maintained the same enrollment status for the duration of their enrollment from 1995–96 to 2000–01: some 47 percent were enrolled exclusively full time, and 12 percent were enrolled exclusively part time. Like part-time students in NPSAS:2004, part-time students in BPS:96/01 were further divided into two subgroups: those who looked like full-time students and those who did not. A total of 47 percent of part-time students in BPS:96/01 were identified as part-time students who looked like full-time students.

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