Working students need more support


Community college students with jobs have much more difficulty taking the courses they need and generally being engaged in college, according to a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

The report urges colleges to better meet working students’ needs by providing support services, helping them with scheduling and promoting ways for working students to develop stronger connections with faculty and staff.

A “special-focus” module added to the 2019 CCCSE survey of student engagement explored the experiences of students between the time they decided to enroll in college through the third week of the fall term. Among those students, 69% had a job.

Other findings from the survey:

  • 29% of students work for pay more than 40 hours a week, and 15% of students who work for pay have at least two jobs.
  • 35% of part-time students and 21% of full-time students who work for pay work more than 40 hours a week.
  • 62% of part-time students (and just 28% of full-time students) say that working determines how they enroll.
  • Older students are more likely to work for pay more than 40 hours a week. Just 20% of students ages 18-19 work more than 40 hours a week, compared to about 60% of students ages 30-64.

A key result from the special focus module found that “when faculty and staff talk with entering students about their work and help them find balance between their working lives and their academic lives, they are helping those students onto a path of being more successful.”

An obstacle to learning

Having a job while attending college can be a struggle. Sixty percent of respondents said their need to work full time could cause them to withdraw from college, and 67% said a lack of finances could prompt them to withdraw.

Over a third of entering students who work say working makes it difficult to take the courses they need, the study says. More than half of all working students between ages 22 and 49 agree with that statement.

In addition, half of all entering students who work say it’s difficult to schedule their classes due to their work schedule, with 60% saying it is difficult to take the classes they need for their major or pathway of study.

The majority of entering students (64%) say being a student and being an employee are equally important, 31% say being a student is most important and 5% say being an employee is most important.

The report suggests colleges with guided pathways can help students explore career interests early, thus providing a roadmap for success. In some cases, colleges could help students get jobs related to their career goal. According to the survey, however, just 19% of respondents work for pay in the same field as their program, major or pathway of study.

Deeper relationships

The report notes that students become more engaged in their studies, and thus more likely to succeed, when they can form relationships on campus. Students who work, however, are less likely to form such relationships.

Entering students who work on campus tend to be more engaged in college, but only 3 percent of working students have on-campus jobs.

Among entering students who work:

  • 83% said none of their instructors know how many hours they work.
  • 81% said a staff member never helped them decide how to balance the number of classes they take and the number of hours they work.
  • 17% had to miss a class at least once in the first three weeks because of work.

If faculty members knew how much they are working, the report says, “they may be able to make reasonable accommodations for students who must miss class due to a work conflict.”

Also, when students report that all of their instructors know how many hours they work or had someone on staff help them balance school and work, they are much more engaged in college.

Better ‘coexistence’

The report urges college faculty and staff to help “achieve successful coexistence” between work and learning, and thus bolster student engagement and success. It recommends:

  • Finding ways for students to connect work with their studies
  • Ensuring that policy and practice take students who work into consideration
  • Talking with students about their working lives

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) President and CEO Walter Bumpus is a member of the CCCSE national advisory board. The board is chaired by Daniel Phelan, president of Jackson College in Michigan and a former AACC board chair.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.
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