Individual and Environmental Effects of Part-Time Enrollment Status on Student-Faculty Interaction and Self-Reported Gains

Article excerpt

In a recent article offering ten directions for future research on the impact of college, Pascarella (2006) praised the efforts of researchers in the 1990s who considered previously ignored students and institutions, and he called for the expansion of that work in the current decade to include an even broader array of student and institution types. Part-time students, those students enrolled in fewer credit hours than necessary to be considered full-time, are among those who have been largely ignored in the literature on college impacts. Yet, in 2004, part-time students represented 37% of the total undergraduate enrollment in two- and four-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S. and the representation of part-time students is projected to decrease only slightly (36%) by 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). In addition, the effects of those postsecondary institutions that educate a disproportionate share of part-time students--often large public, commuter institutions within urban settings--have also been under-examined relative to the environmental impacts of more residential campuses with few part-timers. Given the significant presence of part-time students within higher education, the dearth of empirical research relating to part-time students and the institutions they attend is problematic.

Part-Time Student Engagement and Outcomes

The little we know about part-time students' collegiate experiences comes largely from descriptive findings from national studies. The evidence that exists suggests that part-time status is generally negatively associated with measures of collegiate success. Compared to full-time students, a smaller percentage of part-time students--at least those that start part-time--ever complete a degree (Snyder, Tan, & Hoffman, 2006) and, for those that do, it obviously takes longer than their full-time colleagues to finish. Recent studies (National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE], 2004, 2006) have also reported that during any particular term in college, part-timers engage in educationally purposeful activities less than their full-time counterparts and spend more time on activities that can detract from their collegiate experience, such as working off-campus and caring for dependents. In particular, part-timers are less likely than full-time students to participate in a learning community, in a practicum or internship, in community service or volunteer work, or in foreign language coursework (NSSE, 2004; Zhao & Kuh, 2004). Part-time students generally view their campus environments as less supportive and spend less time studying and participating in co-curricular activities than full-timers (NSSE, 2000, 2001, 2004).

With the evidence on part-time students amounting to some descriptive findings showing that they are less involved than their full-time peers and a few studies (e.g., Pascarella, Bohr, Nora, & Terenzini, 1996) that document that part-timers gain less from their collegiate experiences, there is a great need for studies of good educational practices and of college student outcomes that focus on differences between full-time and part-time students. However, it is more common for recent studies of student engagement and college impact to use enrollment status as a statistical control and rarely report the net effects of this variable in their published form (e.g., Hu & Vesper, 2000; Kuh & Huh, 2001; Nelson Laird & Kuh, 2005; Pascarella, et al., 2006; Pascarella, Wolniak, Cruce, & Blaich, 2004).

Measures of collegiate success have been developed out of several frameworks for studying college students that directly link developmental gains during college to the extent to which students participate in those educationally purposeful activities that have long been associated with traditional students (e.g., Astin, 1984; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Pace, 1980, 1984; Pascarella, 1985). …