Many of today’s college students are older and balancing college with considerable family and work demands. In many cases, that means they can only pursue their studies part-time. In fact, 37 percent of undergraduates seeking a college degree or other educational credential are attending college part-time. That is 6.5 million students out of the 17 million students enrolled in American colleges. 

Hidden in Plain Sight: Understanding Part-Time College Students in America, the Center for American Progress details what is known about part-time students and their experiences, and explores what still needs to be learned to help them persist on the long road to a college credential. In addition to examining available data, the report shares the specific stories of part-time students at Maryland’s Community College of Baltimore County, a large community college where 7 in 10 students attend part-time. The interviews of part-time students offer insight on why students choose to study part-time, what barriers they face, and what supports help them maintain their educational momentum.

As this report makes clear, part-time students are hidden in plain sight—that is to say, that while there is some statistical data about this population, there is much more to learn about part-time students and what supports are needed to improve their prospects in college and beyond. Currently, data at the federal and state level fail to capture their experiences and outcomes. And while there are promising practices around advising and tutoring, accelerated developmental education, adequate financial aid, and child care, there’s limited research specifically focused on how best to serve the part-time student population. To the extent that policies address part-time students at all, it is often to offer incentives to encourage students to attend full-time instead. While reaching full-time status is a worthwhile goal for some students who are taking fewer courses than they reasonably could, viable solutions are still needed for students such as Missy Antonio, who cannot realistically take on a full course load.