Simplified classifications have often led to college students being labeled as full-time or part-time students. However, student enrollment patterns can be much more complicated at many universities, as it is common for students to switch between full-time and part-time enrollment each semester based on finances, scheduling, or family needs. While previous studies have identified part-time enrollment as a risk factor to students’ academic success, limited research has examined the impact of enrollment patterns or strategies on academic performance. Unlike traditional methods that use a single-period model to classify students into full-time and part-time categories, in this study, we apply an advanced multi-period dynamic approach using a Hidden Markov Model to distinguish and cluster students’ enrollment strategies into three categories: full-time, part-time, and mixed. We then investigate and compare the academic performance outcomes of each group based on their enrollment strategies while taking into account student type (i.e., first-time-in-college students and transfer students). Analysis of undergraduate student records data collected at the University of Central Florida from 2008 to 2017 shows that the academic performance of first-time-in-college students who apply a mixed enrollment strategy is closer to that of full-time students, as compared to part-time students. Moreover, during their part-time semesters, mixed-enrollment students significantly outperform part-time students. Similarly, analysis of transfer students shows that a mixed-enrollment strategy is correlated with similar graduation rates as the full-time enrollment strategy and more than double the graduation rate associated with part-time enrollment. This finding suggests that part-time students can achieve better overall outcomes by increased engagement through occasional full-time enrollments.
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