In Focus

Mar 19, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Mixed Enrollment Status: Favorable for Non-First-Time Student Degree Completion

By Katherine Saunders

The traditional 18-year-old high school graduate enrolling full time at a university no longer represents the majority of college students. Today’s non-traditional students are entering, or returning, to postsecondary education older, with families and jobs, and with varying degrees of enrollment intensity. In 2012, 51 percent of undergraduate students were independent, 40 percent were age 25 or older, 15 percent were single parents, and 37 percent were enrolled part-time. A new national study on the enrollment and persistence of non-first-time students (NFT) conducted by a group of higher education organizations[1], indicates that when NFT students combine periods of part-time and full-time enrollment, they are less likely to drop out and are more likely to complete an associate’s degree, compared to exclusively part-time students.

Adult students who return to postsecondary education typically balance work, family, school, and other obligations. The ability to mix their enrollment status provides the flexibility to persist through their education while tending to other responsibilities. More than half of undergraduate students mix full- and part-time enrollment throughout the course of their programs. This type of enrollment is especially more common, and more beneficial, for students attending two-year programs and institutions.

According to the study, of the NFT students who re-entered college between August 15, 2005 and August 14, 2008, 16 percent with mixed enrollment completed their associate’s degree, compared to only 7 percent who enrolled exclusively part-time and 10 percent who enrolled exclusively full-time. At the baccalaureate level or higher, while students who enrolled exclusively full-time fared better than students with mixed enrollment (34 percent compared to 25 percent, respectively), students who enrolled a mixture of full and part-time fared  significantly better than students who enrolled exclusively part-time (25 percent compared to 7 percent, respectively). For adult students who do not have the time or financial resources to continuously enroll full-time at either two-year or four-year institutions, these findings prove that mixing their enrollment status provides them with a better outcome then solely attending part-time.

This study highlights the need for discussions and decisions around financing higher education for working adults at the state and national levels. In comments to the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, CLASP provided several recommendations focused on increasing college affordability for low-income, adult students. CLASP recommends preserving continuous student aid eligibility for students who mix enrollment over the course of their college program, including when they attend less than half-time.

To supplement the unmet costs of higher education, a growing number of undergraduates work while in college, with 39 percent working part-time and 27 percent working full-time. Working while in school may require periods of reduced enrollment, and grants during these periods of lower enrollment intensity help these students maintain momentum to complete their degrees and avoid dropping out entirely due to financial circumstance. According to research from the Community College Research Center, students who maintain “consecutive enrollment” are more likely to complete a credential, and the frequency at which a student switches between part-time and full-time enrollment “does not appear to be detrimental”.

When non-first-time students mix their enrollment, they are more likely to complete their degree. As research continues to support the conclusion that mixed enrollment supports completion, Congress should use this as a guide to pursue policies that preserve student aid for those who attend a mix of full- and part-time enrollment while in school. Adopting these policies would support the national college completion goals and help more low-income, working students earn postsecondary education and credentials necessary to enter the middle class and obtain sustainable, living wages.   


[1] The higher education organizations involved in this study include the American Council on Education, InsideTrack, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and the National Student Clearinghouse.

Mar 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Career Pathways: More Information Still Needed

By Judy Mortrude

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Labor (DOL) have released a summary report of last spring’s Career Pathway Request for Information (RFI). This is especially timely with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) set to take effect in July.

The majority of the 171 RFI respondents were individuals and nonprofits, with just 4 percent of responses coming from local Workforce Investment Boards. However, WIOA offers an opportunity to expand the leadership of state and local workforce boards by requiring them to convene their education partners to develop and implement career pathways. With WIOA taking effect in July, the next several months are crucial for workforce boards that have not yet built career pathway partnerships; they must move quickly to begin aligning services.

Six recommendations were most frequent among the RFI responses:

  • Serve diverse populations;
  • Increase funding;
  • Provide technical assistance;
  • Provide greater flexibility;
  • Support additional research; and
  • Improve performance and outcome measures.

Not surprisingly, the responses revealed the need for more depth and breadth of partnerships in career pathways. For example:

  • Learning how to “braid” formula funds to support career pathway participants and practitioners across all four WIOA titles will require intentional co-enrollment and clear guidance on collecting, sharing, and reporting performance measures between partners.
  • It is essential to build the required partnerships between WIOA programs and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs funded by the Carl Perkins Act , in order to efficiently move adults and out-of-school youth into and through postsecondary CTE pathways to employment while meeting Perkins performance measures.

We are encouraged by the federal interagency career pathway team’s continued efforts to drive critical conversations, and we encourage the agencies to use the upcoming WIOA regulations to explicitly define practices that serve the neediest populations with existing formula funds through aligned and leveraged services across the WIOA titles, Perkins funding, Pell Grants, SNAP E&T, TANF, and more. 

State and local leaders need explicit federal guidance on how to align these partnerships and their performance measures. The workforce development system should play an integral part in making the opportunity of career pathways a reality for those with the greatest needs.

CLASP’s Center for Economic and Postsecondary Success provides a number of tools to help build strong career pathway systems:

Mar 3, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

U.S. Department of Education Responds to OECD Survey with Strategies to Transform Adult Learning

By Lauren Walizer

Responding to our nation’s disappointing results in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills, the U.S. Department of Education released a report last Tuesday that details its vision for transforming adult learning in the United States. In “Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States,” the Department acts on the survey results along with other recent changes in the adult education and workforce landscape, namely the recent passage of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) and the White House’s Ready to Work report, to develop comprehensive strategies that will be ripe for “synergy, amplification, and investment.”

The highlight of the report is the Department’s seven strategies for improving adult learning and skill development.  We applaud both the breadth of the current adult education landscape addressed in these recommendations and the Department’s commitment to improving it. Several of the proposed strategies closely connect to our work at CLASP, including promoting expanded use of career pathways, emphasizing “no wrong door” approaches for youth and adult services, and improving opportunities and outcomes for low-income and under-served minorities. CLASP encourages the Department to consider also incentivizing workforce development partners to implement these strategies through the development of a truly shared accountability system.

In our original post about the Survey of Adult Skills’ release in 2013, CLASP called for policymakers to use the survey’s results as an impetus to redesign the nation’s inadequate skills development system. This international skills survey underscores the need for action, as adults in the United States were ranked 16th in literacy, 21st in numeracy, and 14th in problem solving using technology, out of 24 advanced countries. Improvements in this field would not only upgrade adults’ basic skills, but also promote innovation and workforce success, creating opportunities for individuals to begin or continue postsecondary training.

The Department offers a comprehensive and strategic response. Now it’s up to all of us from the worlds of government, education, policy, advocacy, business, labor, philanthropy, and nonprofits to do our part to put these strategies into action.  CLASP is committed to redoubling our efforts to improve adult learning so that poor and low-income individuals gain the basic skills they need to reach economic security.

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