Part-time learner in higher education

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A part-time learner is a non-traditional student who pursues higher education, typically after reaching physical maturity, while living off-campus, and possessing responsibilities related to family and/or employment.[1] Part-time student status is based on taking fewer course credits in a semester than full-time students.

In the United States, the number of part-time students rose 16 percent between 2004 and 2014.[2] In 2015, 23 percent of undergraduate students at 4-year institutions attended part-time, compared to 61 percent of students at 2-year institutions.[3]

In Canada, the course load that constitutes part-time student status varies between institutions. The University of British Columbia, for example, defines a part-time undergraduate student as one enrolled in less than 80 percent of the standard 30 credit-hour course load.[4] The University of Manitoba defines the part-time undergraduate student as an individual enrolled in less than 60 percent of the standard full 30 credit hour course load.[5] The Government of Canada national student loans program defines a part-time student as one who is enrolled in 20-59 percent of a full course load.[6]

In Canada part-time undergraduate enrolment grew by 25 percent from 1980 to 1992. From 2000 to 2010, part-time enrolment grew by one percent a year compared to four percent for full-time enrolment.[7] A high number of part-time students are adult students. In 2010, approximately 24 percent of undergraduate students in Canada were studying part-time, and 60 percent of part-time students were 25 years old or older.[8]

In the United Kingdom, while full-time students have been increasing, part-time student enrolment has been steady decreasing since 2009-2010. In 2011-2012, 31 percent of all enrolments were part-time, while in 2015-2016 part-time students consisted of 24 percent of all enrolments. Between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016 there was an overall 30 percent decrease of part-time students.[9]

In Australia, 31.2 percent of students in 2008 were enrolled part-time. Between 2003 and 2008, while the number of students attending full time increased by 21.1 percent, the number attending part-time enrollments increased by only 2.5 percent.[10]

Further reading[edit]

  • Waniewicz, I. (1976). Demand for part-time learning in Ontario. The Ontario Educational Communications: Canada
  • Longden, B. & Yorke, M. (October 2008). The experiences of part-time students in higher education: A study from the UK. Retrieved from
  • Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board. (1981). Post-secondary Education for Part-time and Returning Students.
  • Smith, D. M., & Saunders, M. R. (1991). Other routes: Part-time higher education policy. Buckingham [England: Society for Research into Higher Education.
  • Tight, M. (1991). Higher Education: A part-time perspective. Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bean, J., P., & Metzner, B., S. (Winter,1985). A conceptual model of non-traditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of Educational Research, 55(4), 485-540. Retrieved November 6, 2007, from JSTOR database.
  2. ^ Digest of Education Statistics, 2015 (NCES 2016-014). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2016. pp. Chapter 3. 
  3. ^ "Characteristics of Postsecondary Students (NCES 2017144)" (PDF). The Condition of Education 2017. National Center for Education Statistics. 2017. 
  4. ^ The University of British. (N.D.) Student Calendar. Retrieved September 28, 2007 from:,195,272,29
  5. ^ The University of Manitoba. (N.D.) Student Records. Retrieved September 26, 2007, from:
  6. ^ Employment and Social Development Canada (N.D.) Canada student loans program: Part-time studies. Government of Canada. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from
  7. ^ "Trends in higher education: Volume 1 – enrolment" (PDF). The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. 2011. 
  8. ^ "Trends in higher education: Volume 1 – enrolment" (PDF). The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. 2011. 
  9. ^ "Higher education student enrolments and qualifications obtained at higher education providers in the United Kingdom 2015/16". HESA. January 12, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Students: 2008 Summary of Higher Education Statistics" (PDF). Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. April 4, 2014. pp. 38–39. 

Additional citations[edit]

  • Andres, L., & Carpenter, S. (1997). Today’s higher education students: Issues of admission, retention, transfer, and attrition in relation to changing student demographics. Centre for Policy Studies in Education University of British Columbia. Retrieved October 12, 2007 from:
  • Billett, S. (1998). Ontogeny and participation in communities of practice: A socio-cognitive view of adult development. Studies in the Education of Adults, 30(1), 21. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Campbell, D. (1984). The new majority: Adult Learners in the University. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press.
  • Holt, N. (2003) Representation, Legitimation, and Autoethnography: An Autoethnographic Writing Story. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2 (1) Retrieved September 18, 2008 from
  • Kozulin, A. (2004). Vygotsky's theory in the classroom: Introduction. European Journal of Psychology of Education - EJPE, 19(1), 3-7. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Kroth, M. (2000). Life Mission and Adult Learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 50 (2).
  • McDonough, G. (2005). Moral maturity and autonomy: appreciating the significance of Lawrence Kolhberg's Just Community. Journal of Moral Education, 34(2), 199-213. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R., S., & Baumgartner, L., M. (2007). Learning in adulthood” A comprehensive guide (3rd Edition). San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
  • Rennemark, M., & Hagberg, B. (1997). Sense of coherence among the elderly in relation to their perceived life history in an Eriksonian perspective. Aging & Mental Health, 1(3), 221-229. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Russell, C. (1999). Autoethnography: Journey of the Self. Experimental Ethnography. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from
  • Siegler, R., Ellis, S. (1996). Piaget on Childhood. Psychological Science, American Psychological Society, 7(4). Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Stydinger, N., & Dundes, L. (Spring, 2006). Over the Hill? A Nontraditional Undergraduate Student’s Uphill Battle. College Quarterly, 9(2). Retrieved September 16, 2007, from

External links[edit]