Part-time Students Finish in Four at UWF
April 20, 2017 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.
Lawmakers in Florida are advancing legislation that would link four-year graduation rates with performance funding at Florida universities. This growing interest prompted the University of West Florida to thoroughly examine our progress. We learned some interesting information about our students and their progress towards a bachelor’s degree.
Part-Time Versus Full-Time Students
According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 41 percent of UWF students attend part-time (enrolled for fewer than 12 semester credit hours). In reality, most students aren’t exclusively part-time or full-time but switch between the classifications depending on the semester. This mixed enrollment helps students balance life and educational responsibilities. More than 90 percent of First-Time-in-College students at UWF fit into this blended category.
Our data show that UWF students fit into one of the following classifications:
• Dual enrollment or accelerated credits earned before enrollment
• First term as part-time and then maintained full-time status
• Mixed enrollment between full-time and part-time while taking courses every summer.
UWF already employs a number of strategies to ensure that all of our students, including those who are part-time, can graduate in four years.
No matter what classification students fall into, academic advising plays a vital role in ensuring students take the classes needed to complete their degree and graduate on time. Freshmen, first-time-in-college students and students yet to declare a major start with the First Year Advising Center where professional advisors work with students as they explore possible majors, set academic goals and embark on their degree plan. UWF’s Splash Forward in Four campaign emphasizes the importance of graduating in four years from the time when students apply for admission. This program showcases student support services such as tutoring and the Writing Lab.
The key to timely graduation for these students is to take courses in the summer. UWF has committed $400,000 a year in summer financial aid for those who need this resource. This allows them to stay on their path toward their degree. For students who work and attend UWF, this type of assistance can make a major difference in timely degree completion.
About 41 percent of undergraduates at UWF receive Pell Grants, which is a needs-based federal financial aid program. Recipients can receive up to $5,730 per year. We communicate with students who have unused financial aid and offer the option of using those funds for summer courses. This maximizes their financial aid and keeps them on track for graduation.
Summer Work-Study Programs
Many of our students work during the summer terms instead of taking classes. In addition to the traditional federal work-study program, UWF offers students options that allow them to work and take classes during the summer months. Many of our departments hire students as part-time employees. We work with community partners to place students in paid internships that give them valuable work experience. Earlier this year, UWF announced our first corporate work-study program that provides students part-time employment. In this program, UWF covers up to 50 percent of the student’s wage rate. These programs encourage our students to complete classes they need for their degree while also earning money and gaining valuable experience.
Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball
From the first day of classes until graduation, we work with our students to keep them focused on what they need to earn their degrees. Our online graduation dashboard shows each student’s progress toward a degree as well as the implications of changing majors and the related impact on excess hours, financial aid, and time to degree. The dashboard graphically displays the student’s progress and alerts them when they get off track.
All of our strategies focus on providing students with the tools and information they need to meet their academic goals and earn their degrees without entering into debt. We strive to ensure that students know what tools and resources are available to them. This empowers them to seek solutions and ask for help when they need it.
We will continue to work diligently to develop programs and initiatives that support our students graduating in four years.