Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Cheryl D. Ching

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelényi

Third Advisor

Audrey J. Jaeger


In Massachusetts and across the nation, the percentage of community college students who attend part-time averages more than 60% (Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2023; AACC, 2023). Additionally, approximately 80% of students have been enrolled part-time for some of their time in community college (CCSSE, 2018). However, despite their substantial representation at community colleges, this population has historically been not only underrepresented in both quantitative and qualitative scholarship on community college students, but mostly cast in a negative light. Also, part-time students have been overlooked by recent reform efforts aimed primarily at retention, persistence, and graduation (Mann Levesque, 2018). This exploratory interview study of 15 students (10 enrolled; five stopped out) from four Massachusetts community colleges sought to re-frame dominant narratives by centering part-time students’ voices. This study used Perna’s (2006) Proposed Conceptual Model of Student College Choice to examine students’ reasons for attending community college part-time. The study indicated that part-time students’ academic, personal, and professional goals and needs vary widely, and many are exercising their personal agency to achieve these goals and meet these needs. Specifically, I found that (1) students were choosing between community college and not entering higher education instead of choosing among different types of institutions; (2) students did not decide to stay enrolled or leave college specifically due to experiences with faculty, advising, or financial aid; (3) students felt comfortable leaving and returning to their local community college; (4) students engage in intentional choice-making based on the information they have to determine when to stay and when to leave; and (5) students’ workplace served as a form of social and cultural capital for some first-generation and immigrant college students. The findings led me to adapt Perna’s (2006) model into a Part-Time Community College Choice and Persistence Model to show how students draw on their own situated contexts to make intentional decisions around enrollment and persistence. The dissertation concludes with implications for future research and practice.