40% of College Students Attend Part-Time, and Many Won't Graduate

While college enrollment rates rise, graduation rates stay the same. That's not good news. A new report from nonprofit education group Complete College America details this trend and other education statistics that mark cause for concern.

By Sarah Wright

student body

The Report

In a brief introduction to its recent study about college completion titled 'Time is the Enemy,' Complete College America pointed out that there are some pretty surprising gaps in data about public college and university students. For instance, most schools only gather and report data about graduation rates among full-time and first-generation students, but this doesn't paint a full picture; about 40% of college students in the U.S. attend school part-time, and other 'non-traditional' students are also slipping through the cracks.

'Time is the Enemy' highlights college completion rates among non-traditional students that aren't typically considered in statistics that evaluate, as the report says, student 'success or failure.' The goal of the study was to take a close look at all the different types of students that attend colleges, universities and postsecondary career training programs, with the idea being that 'if we do not understand their challenges and the complicated natures of their lives,' we can't understand what's preventing so many students from graduating. With the help of data collected from 33 states whose governors agreed to participate, Complete College America produced a report that should serve as a wake-up call.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional

As the report's title indicates, Complete College America's findings have revealed that the longer it takes to complete college, the lower the likelihood of graduation becomes. Extra time does not provide a boost to one's ability to graduate, which is bad news for the 40% of U.S. postsecondary students who only attend school part-time. The study also sheds light on an interesting conundrum: the 'traditional' student - one who lives on-campus and attends school full-time - is no longer in the majority. Instead, 'nontraditional' students, who commute to school and may be attending part-time while managing a job or family, make up 75% of college students today.

The traditional vs. non-traditional distinction says it all here. Our colleges and universities are set up to serve what's now the minority. In the study, Complete College America argues that postsecondary schools need to change to accommodate the new majority. Suggestions in the report include year-round scheduling with shorter breaks, making class scheduling more streamlined and predictable, using digital technology to cut down on class time and providing prospective students with more complete information about potential program outcomes. Clearly something's got to be done quickly, or even more students will fall between the cracks of the system. For the educators as well as the educated, time is indeed the enemy.

Another recent report produced interesting findings about community college students who transfer to 4-year colleges and universities.

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?