Part-Time Students = 38% of Undergrads
Affordability Commission focuses on needs of adult and part-time students

Blog post September 2015 Commission meeting

Part-time college students made up 38 percent of undergraduates in SREB states by 2013. Many part-time students work to pay their living expenses as well as tuition, and the more hours they work, the longer it takes them to finish, on average. Part-timers are eligible for less financial aid, and they tend to file later, missing early deadlines.

At the September 2015 meeting of the SREB Commission on College Affordability in the South, leaders from higher ed systems in Georgia, Kentucky and West Virginia shared their states’ efforts for two kinds of part-time students: those of traditional college age as well as adults returning to postsecondary education. While they encourage most students to attend full-time, the systems have devised financial aid programs for part-time students and targeted outreach to help adults return to complete credentials. 

The West Virginia Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student (HEAPS) grant for example, offers small grants to part-time students, said Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. Some other examples of state financial aid programs for part-time students include Kentucky’s Go Higher Grant, the Maryland Part-time Grant and the Virginia Part-Time Assistance Program. The Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship and Go! Grant and the Tennessee Student Assistance Award are also open to part-time students.

Helping Adults Return to Finish

The panel members also shared information about their states’ programs to encourage adults to complete credentials. Georgia’s Go Back. Move Ahead. campaign focuses on helping adults with college credits return to complete their degrees, with support and counseling targeted to the needs of working adults. Flexible and lower-cost online schedules and textbooks are key components, as is outreach to military families 

“We know we can’t meet our workforce goals unless we reach returning adults,” said University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “Go Back. Move Ahead. removes some of the mystery of going back to school.” 

“It’s not that these adults don’t know the importance of a college degree,” said Houston Davis, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia. “They get it. What they don’t know is how.”

“The vast majority of returning adults are going to be part time, and we have to embrace their needs,” said Davis.

In Kentucky, Project Graduate has been giving students a second chance to finish their degrees since 2007. Targeting students with at least 80 credit hours, the program assigns an advocate to help navigate paperwork and academic advising, and it waives application fees. 

“Convenience is critically important to adult students,” said Bob King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Project Graduate offers “the whole panoply of student support services available by 800 number and in-person.” 

Following on the success of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s Learn on Demand program, Commonwealth College will offer online completion programs for high-demand four-year degrees such as advanced manufacturing and healthcare management.