Working part-time or full-time is a reality for most community college students, but some colleges are using various initiatives to ease working students’ academic and financial burdens to ensure that they don’t drop out, according to a new report.
About 68 percent of public two-year college students work while going to school, with more than one-third working 31 hours or more a week, noted the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) report. It cited previous research that shows working long hours can hurt low-income students’ academic performance and can even prompt them to drop out.
A growing number of colleges are using various support services to keep those working students going to school. The ACCT report highlighted the efforts of three community colleges that leverage work-based learning, prior learning assessments, flexible scheduling and childcare to help those students.
Lakeshore Technical College in Wisconsin created what it calls the Individualized Technical Studies (ITS) Program, which allows certain students to create a customized program of study if the college doesn’t offer a program that interests them.
Students who pursue an ITS degree usually have at least some postsecondary education as well as work experience. For example, a student with experience in a skilled trade or manufacturing may want to learn the business or administrative side of the profession and earn a degree in accounting, the report said. The ITS program could help the student develop a program that focuses on accounting specifically for advanced manufacturing, it said.
The ITS program also folds in prior learning from work, training or military experience, which can count towards as much as 75 percent of the ITS degree requirements.
Although it’s still a small program (28 students graduated via ITS between 2014 and 2018), it can lead to new programs at the college, the report said. It noted the ITS radioactive materials program expanded to a full radioactive safety and health physics degree program resulting from a student’s ITS.
Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College developed its SKY FLEX program to give working students schedule flexibility by allowing them to fulfill part of their degree requirements online, the report said. The program also provides them access to on-campus supports, such as tutoring and career counseling.
SKY FLEX was first offered for degree programs in industrial maintenance technology, engineering and electronics technology, and electronics technology, and now also includes welding and HVAC.
The ACCT report featured Austin Community College (ACC) in Texas for its childcare programs. The college offers working students three options:
- childcare scholarships in addition to wraparound support services
- access to its Children’s Lab School that includes evening care
- drop-in care in partnership with a local YMCA
ACC serves about 300 students per semester through these programs, which have helped working students, the report said. Students who receive the childcare scholarships, for example, persist from semester to semester at a rate that is 5 percent higher than that of other ACC students, it said.
Childcare services are expensive for most colleges, but ACC leverages several funding sources. For example, the scholarship program is funded by a combination of the college’s federal Perkins Career and Technical Education grants and other resources at the college, the report said. The evening-care program, it added, receives funds from the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School program. For the drop-in childcare, ACC provides in-kind space on campus and YMCA covers the operating expenses.