Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Judith I. Gill

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelényi

Third Advisor

Terrence A. Gomes


Community college graduation rates are low for the entering cohort of degree or certificate-seeking students who have always attended full-time. After six years, four out of 10 students fail to earn a credential or continue to be enrolled. Graduation rates are even lower for students who enroll consistently on a part-time basis. Approximately three out of four of these students fail to earn a credential within six years. Much of the blame for failure of part-time students is attributed to their demographic characteristics, their lack of motivation, and poor educational preparation for college. Some of these characteristics result in their marginalization in higher education. High failure rates cause problems at the student, institutional, state, and national levels. Of particular interest to this study are factors that have been documented to promote persistence. These include the extent to which part-time students are engaged in the academic and social environment and the extent to which students develop a sense of belonging within the classroom, clubs or organizations, program or department, or the institution as a whole.

Qualitative research methods were used in this dissertation to design and conduct a multiple case study at two community colleges in New England. The purpose of the study was to learn about the supports and impediments to student success. The two case studies are based on interviews or focus groups with 84 administrators, faculty, current students, and former students. In addition, documents were reviewed at both institutions. Five key findings were associated with this study. COMMUNICATION was the central and all-embracing issue that affected success of part-time community college students. Campuses operated without distinctions being made between full-time and part-time students. Student engagement and sense of belonging were most likely to take place in the classroom. Administrators acknowledged the importance of faculty professional development opportunities and faculty indicated that they would benefit from a greater understanding of student experiences and the barriers that confront most part-time students. Communication problems between academic offices and student affairs were apparent. Programmatic recommendations are provided for community college presidents and vice-presidents and areas for future research are discussed.


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