RELEASE: A Community College in Boston Offers Lessons to Better Serve Part-Time Students

Washington, D.C. — A new issue brief from the Center for American Progress highlights the opportunity for institutions of higher education to improve the prospects of part-time students, who represent about three-quarters of community college students nationwide but face low odds of making it to graduation.

Bunker Hill Community College’s learning communities project has improved the retention of part-time students by 7 percent, as compared with students not enrolled in learning communities, according to new data. Learning communities feature small classes meant to build community with peers and engage new students with hands-on work. They include interdisciplinary seminars on topics of personal interest—ranging from string theory to modern Islam to hip-hop, as well as reformed remedial education models that get students into credit-bearing classes faster. In the learning communities with the best results, peer mentors and success coaches work alongside the instructor to offer students additional support.

“The learning communities project at Bunker Hill Community College is a powerful example of what can happen when an institution makes serving its part-time student population a priority,” said Marcella Bombardieri, senior policy analyst of Postsecondary Education at CAP and the author of the brief. “Bunker Hill’s work offers plenty of insight for other college leaders who hope to offer their part-time students a more solid foundation for success.”

The learning communities project serves both full-time and part-time students, but data from Bunker Hill’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness show a greater impact on part-time students. They appeared to gain from access to more support from college staff, the chance to get to know peers more deeply and the opportunity to delve into academic work with greater personal resonance than they might otherwise find in introductory classes.

Only 37 percent of students who attend part time at any point during their college career graduate within six years. There is a growing realization on college campuses, and among advocates and policymakers, that American higher education needs to better serve part-time students. However, even colleges where part-time students are a majority often do not treat these students as a distinct population to be tracked, studied, and supported with interventions designed specifically for them.

This brief suggests that learning communities, or elements of them, are worth exploring for other colleges serving large numbers of part-time students. More broadly, these institutions should bring the same level of attention to part-time students in order to find the right answers for their campus.

Related resources:Hidden In Plain Sight: Understanding Part-Time College Students in America” by Marcella Bombardieri on the importance of part-time college students for policymakers and institutions

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Kyle Epstein at or 202-481-8137.