“It’s care. It’s support. It’s knowing that you’re not just a little lonely. – Shane, Flex student
Like community colleges nationwide, more than half (56%) of students at Nashville State Community College enroll part-time. Part-time students face different financial, social, and academic challenges than traditional students. Colleges face unique challenges in hiring part-time students to help them persevere and succeed through graduation. Part-time students have much to offer their communities, and higher education policies (federal, state, and institutional) must adapt to meet their needs if they are to succeed.
Coming from all walks of life, and despite their experiences and skills, part-time students are traditionally overlooked. Unlike full-time students who are seen as fuel for budgeting, recruitment, retention, and college completion efforts, part-time students are seen more as an afterthought and may be invisible, as they pay less tuition and spend less time on campus. State policies and programs are often designed with the full-time student in mind, to the detriment of the part-time student. Scholarships, including “Promise” scholarships, often require students to be full-time.
Like most other states, the Tennessee Last Dollar Scholarship, known as the TN Promise Scholarship, is limited to students who enroll full-time. Recognizing these and other barriers, the Tennessee College Access and Success Network (TCASN), Nashville State Community College (NSCC), Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, and the Kresge’s education team made the decision to focus on the success of part-time students with a demonstration project called Nashville Flex.
“Part-time students have the same affordability issues and the same academic issues as any other student. In fact, probably more. They often try to juggle work, family, children and college. Since COVID, there has been a sea change in college education and we believe the future of post-secondary education will require a pivot to better serve the part-time student,” said Bob Obrohta, Executive Director of TCASN.
“Nashville State is focused on being a student-ready college. A critical component is understanding what supports our students need to be successful,” said Dr. Shanna L. Jackson, Nashville State President. “Like Nashville GRAD, Flex provides comprehensive services, helping to remove financial barriers and providing social and emotional support to our part-time students as they persist and graduate.”
Flex is inspired by the successful Nashville GRAD program. The 2-year graduation rate for graduate students is nearly double that of other NSCC students, and graduate students persist (84.5% vs. 68.5%) and are retained (57% vs. 45%) at higher rates than TN Promise students.
“Nashville GRAD and Flex students frequently describe their interactions with program advisors as key to their success in college,” said Dr. Carolyn Heinrich, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy, Education, and economics at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. “They greatly value the connections their counselors help them make with financial supports that allow them to spend more time in their studies and with social workers and other services that help ease their stress and support their well-being. be social and emotional. »
Under Nashville Flex, part-time students receive: $150 per semester for textbooks, $100 per month for public transit and/or food, a loaner laptop, a strong peer network, and a dedicated advisor who provides mentorship and support. Flex students can also apply for emergency funds to help with unexpected financial hardship, such as car repairs or medical bills.
Flex was launched in January with 11 students. With full implementation starting in the fall semester of 2022, the demonstration project has grown to 52 students.
“My students are so resilient,” said Lindsay Hager, Peer Mentoring Manager and Flex Student Success Advisor. “They fight so hard, and yet they still prioritize their education. They prioritize it because they know it will improve their future, no matter how difficult it is right now.
Hager knows that his role is crucial in the success of his students. “The sanity aspect of knowing you have someone you can trust and rely on is key. Flex students know they can come to me with their issues, and I will help them resolve them. resolve and find the right resource, if needed.”
Kyle, a student from Nashville Flex, returned to college after a several-year hiatus to study nursing. He shared his worries about the return transition: “It was scary. I mean, I didn’t really know what to expect. Kyle works full-time in a public service role, so he can only take three classes per semester. Being connected to a Success Advisor has helped him feel more confident, and “having someone who would, like, walk by my side through it all is really heartwarming.”
Antoinette, a student from Nashville Flex, shared that her success advisor played a huge role in supporting her through her first semester. She decided to continue her university studies after a long period of incarceration and explained that going to university had been “overwhelming”. She currently works over 30 hours a week as a manager in a local business.
“I’m always either on the phone or texting [my advisor], because she is a lifesaver. After experiencing an emergency during her registration, Antoinette shared that her counselor stepped up to help her with the tasks that allowed her to stay registered the following semester: “She registered me for this semester and the next semester. I mean…she just did everything that I couldn’t mentally do…She really put my mind at ease,” she said.
The financial supports provided by Flex help students not feel pressured to choose between employment or post-secondary education. “The $100 a month is huge for these students,” says Hager.
Kyle explained that Flex’s financial supports allow him to work less overtime, focus on schoolwork, spend more time with his family, and achieve his graduation goals. “I work full time and work overtime. But even working full time doesn’t really cover all the bills, everything being so high right now… I think if I wasn’t in the Flex program, I’d probably have to sign up for an extra shift or two “, he said.
Another Nashville Flex student, Shane, shared how the financial support allowed her to focus on her classes rather than her job. “I can work 8 hours less this week and still do the grocery shopping. It really, really gives you that sense of comfort and that level of ‘it’s going to be okay,'” she said.
In addition to the supports provided to part-time students in Nashville State, Flex works in neighborhoods in the Nashville Promise Zone to increase the number of students enrolling and re-engaging in higher education. More than half of households in Nashville Promise Zone neighborhoods report zero income and residents have the lowest levels of post-secondary education in the city (28% have a degree), making upward mobility, housing affordable and employment more difficult to obtain. Flex has trained over 100 community members as Reconnect Ambassadors. Reconnect Ambassadors are trusted individuals who live in targeted communities and can help connect prospective students to the people and resources they need to succeed in Nashville State and other college campuses.
“Working adults face many obstacles on their journey to upward economic mobility. Support from employers and community members is essential to successful post-secondary education. That’s why we’re training community organizations and employers to become Reconnect Ambassadors,” said Stephanie Coleman, Director of Talent Development at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Reconnect Ambassadors inspire employees and adults in their community to upskill or retrain to broaden their career prospects. Ambassadors have the information needed to connect people to the resources and navigational assistance that will enable them to enroll, persist, and successfully earn a degree or credential.
Nashville Flex is funded by Kresge’s CoPro2.0, short for College Promise 2.0. CoPro2.0 funds research and programming innovations that help scale and improve next generations of equitable and financially viable College Promise programs, or “free college” programs, in collaboration with community colleges across the United States.
To learn more about Nashville Flex, please visit: https://www.nscc.edu/admissions/nashville-flex.
To find out how to become a Reconnect Ambassador, please email Shohreh Daraei ([email protected]).
Wendy Blackmore is Director of Operations at Tennessee College Access and Success Network.