Part-time students juggle roles on the paths toward graduation

Jackie Valley

Until 6 p.m. on Mondays, freshman Lori Spence is an employee. Afterward, she is a student at Kent State. And, once home at night, she is a wife.

For Spence, 29, a part-time student studying psychology and human resources, the demands of juggling multiple roles can be challenging.

“Some days are better than others,” she said, and it’s difficult for her to find personal time.

Even so, 10 years after graduating from high school, the lure of a college degree keeps Spence motivated.

“I finally decided to come back and get my bachelor degree,” she said. “When I was in high school, I never really knew what I wanted to do.”

Even though a report issued this year concluded that part-time students are at a disadvantage compared to full-time students, Spence is not a student who finds herself discouraged. She plans to continue attending Kent State part-time in hopes of changing her student status to full-time at some point.

“I just had to come to the conclusion that everyone is different and we’re all there for the same thing — to get a college education,” she said.

According to the report released by the National Center for Education Statistics, 83 percent of part-time students work, and 47 percent consider themselves employees first and students second.

In addition, the researchers found that only 15 percent of part-time students who entered college in 1995 had completed a degree or certificate after six years, compared to 64 percent of full-time students who earned a degree within that same time frame.

Rachel Anderson, director of the Adult Student Center, said the study does not surprise her, but she said a study conducted for a longer period of time might shed more light on the part-time graduation rate.

“After 10 years are some part-time students finished, and are some full-time students done?” she said. “I’m not sure they’re comparing apples to apples.”

According to data from Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, during a six-year time frame, seven out of the 85 part-time freshmen who began in 2000 at the Kent campus graduated — about 8 percent. Of the original 85 part-time freshmen, 11 students are still enrolled this year.

Lynn Papenfus, institutional research information specialist, said the university does not officially track graduation rates for part-time students because distinguishing between stop-outs — students taking a semester off — and dropouts is difficult.

Anderson said part-time students are already at risk for dropping out of college due to the nature of their typical circumstances, such as working or caring for a family.

“People leave institutions for a lot of reasons,” she said. “If you’re a part-time student, that probably means that something in your life is taking precedence.”

As a result, Anderson said the roles assumed by part-time students versus full-time students often make the path to graduation more difficult.

“When you’re a full-time student, everyone understands that’s your full-time job,” she said. “When you’re a part-time students, your roles are fuzzy.

“If you don’t have a strong support network, those demands can overshadow your school roles.”

In addition, Anderson said poverty among part-time students plays a role in the graduation rate.

According to a report released in 2004 by the American Council on Education and the Lumina Foundation for Education, 45 percent of low-income adult students are enrolled part-time or less than part-time.

“College is a privilege,” she said. “It’s hard to go to college if you don’t have money.”

Still, Anderson said part-time students cover a wide range of ages and reasons for attending.

“College isn’t for everyone at 18,” she said. “And, college isn’t for everyone in general.”

For Jeremiah Unkefer, a part-time student at the Stark campus, college means a second chance at a new career.

Unkefer, 28, a 2002 graduate of Bowling Green with an arts and communications bachelor degree, never found his niche in the post-Sept. 11 market.

“As a result of that event, the economy was in deplorable conditions, so I never really found what I wanted to do with my degree,” he said.

Now, while working about 30 hours per week and studying to get his teaching license, Unkefer said work and school overshadow his social life.

“With the end goal being what it is, I will make that sacrifice now,” he said. “It’s a means to an end.”

Meanwhile, Debra Barton, who is in her 50s and works full-time at Republic Steel, said she has taken classes as a part-time student on and off for the past 10 years because she enjoys learning.

Although Barton said she does not have a clear degree goal, she is currently taking Spanish courses to help in her sales job. And, she has no plans to stop occasionally taking higher education courses.

“I like to see that there’s other older people going to school,” she said. “It gives me hope.”

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].