How community colleges can support working students
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How Community Colleges Can Support Working Students

Many students are juggling work and school. How can community colleges offer support?

Over two-thirds of community college students are also employed. According to a report from ThinkImpact, 36% of students enrolled in public 2-year institutions work part time, while 33% hold full-time jobs. This represents a huge portion of the student population—one that neither community college administration nor faculty can ignore. However, for as large as this student demographic is, many struggle to balance the demands of work and education.

Students work for a number of reasons. Some are taking classes with the support of—or even sponsorship from—their day job in order to gain a valuable qualification. Other students want to continue gaining work experience during their time at college so that they have a strong employment history on their resume. Some students just want to have some extra spending money, while others have bills to pay and dependents to support.

This range of needs and motivations means that working students will always be a part of campus life—and that’s no bad thing. But working more than twenty hours a week also contributes to student burnout, disrupts academic performance, slows credit accumulation, lengthens the time spent in school, and lowers the likelihood that students will complete their degrees. Given that a third of community college students fall into this category, offering them support should be an institutional priority. Here are four steps community colleges can take to help their working students succeed.

1. Educate students on financial aid options.

When it comes to financial support, a little relief can go a long way. A student working a full-time job may consider moving to part time during the school year if it helps them complete their degree promptly. However, too many students are unaware of their financial options, and as a result, miss out on benefits or end up making decisions that work against their best interests.

Community colleges can help students by devoting some of their resources toward information-based marketing. Doing so will educate current students, and may also be the deciding factor in convincing prospective students who are on the fence to enroll.

2. Involve faculty and administration more directly in student work/life balance.

According to a 2020 article from Community College Daily, faculty and community college staff are rarely aware of how much students are working. 83% of students reported that none of their instructors knew how many hours they worked, while 81% had never received guidance from staff. It’s hard to know where this lack of awareness stems from, and of course some students may not be interested in discussing their workload with teachers. But community colleges can be more proactive in encouraging students to seek help earlier in the semester, before their situation becomes more stressful.

For instance, teachers can begin class by explicitly stating the accommodations they are willing to offer working students, and encouraging those students to come talk to them if they’re working more than twenty hours a week. They can also take the lead in encouraging students to seek counseling from administrative staff if they are overworked. Administration can help students reassess their workload within the first weeks of the semester to help them determine if they need to drop a class or switch to an evening or online option.

3. Create on-campus work opportunities.

Students who work on campus perform better than those who hold off-campus jobs. This should hardly come as a shock: not only does on-campus employment cut down on commuting time, but it also encourages students to fill any breaks between work and classes with study time.

Community colleges can institute hiring policies that prioritize students and work with on-campus businesses to help students find work. Community colleges should also prioritize paid opportunities over unpaid internships, as unpaid opportunities are typically only accessible to students with other means of financial support and are not a viable financial option for lower-income students.

4. Develop career pathways through community college programs.

Community college students are typically more career focused than their four-year counterparts, which is to say that they often enroll due to a practical need to find better-paying employment rather than learning for its own sake. Because of this, the draw of steady employment that doesn’t require a degree can influence a student’s decision to continue their program.

On the other hand, a strong career pathway, developed through cooperation with local employers, can be an incentive to stay in a program—or to enroll in the first place. Many employers also have incentives to work with community colleges, and will even collaborate with educators on training curricula to increase the supply of qualified workers.

Employment should be an enhancement to a student’s community college experience.

Working students will always be a core demographic for community colleges. But working a job should not be an impediment to finding or advancing a career. On the contrary, work experience within a certain limit can and should work to a student’s advantage by relieving financial stress, increasing networking opportunities, and enhancing post-college employment credentials.

Many two-year public colleges understand this and are working with employers in their community to improve career pathways for their students. However, even with opportunities in place, students may hesitate to sign up for classes under the assumption that doing so will be incompatible with their current job situation.

Community colleges can lower that barrier by taking proactive steps to support working students, such as the ones listed above. They should also take the extra step to market that work, so that those students who are holding down jobs know that they belong. We’ve written more about this and other issues that can impact enrollment in our latest white paper, “Dismantling the Obstacle Course: How Community Colleges Can Use Content Marketing to Negotiate Enrollment Barriers.”

At Aperture Content Marketing, we’ve developed a multichannel platform designed to help community colleges reach their students with the information that is crucial for helping them make a decision about their education. Our platform includes a library of articles which can be developed into both print and digital marketing campaigns. Contact our team today to learn more.

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