The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), a non-profit educational organization is training a spotlight on work and academic balance at community colleges.
College-Work Balancing Act, is one of four reports being released by ACCT over the next few years. The other three reports will focus on prior-learning assessments, working with alternative education providers, and upskilling and changing workforce dynamics within automation.
“We really wanted to recognize that if colleges are thinking about workforce development, they also need to think that those students are working and thinking about ways that they can tailor the campus environment to ensure working student success,” said Allison Beer, senior policy analyst at ACCT.
According to the survey, over two-thirds of community college students work while enrolled in school. Additionally, 70 percent of community college students hold a job unrelated to their field of study. As a result, working while attending school is based on financial need rather than earning career experiences.
“For colleges, I think that’s a challenge because they have to accept the reality that students are working but there’s more to do to help students make sure that their work experience is connected to their college coursework,” said Beer. “Or the flip side of that, there is more to do to ensure that students have the financial resources that they need so they don’t have to take on a job that’s not related to their course of study.”
In terms of demographics, 70 percent of females, 72 percent of White students and 71 percent of students between the ages of 24 to 29 held jobs while being enrolled in community college. Additionally, 71 percent of independent students, especially those with their own dependents, are also more likely to work compared to 65 percent of dependent students, the report found.
Various factors impact student success within the work life and academic balance including lack of time, poor academic performance and finances.
The report recommended various solutions to community colleges to assist with student success including work base learning opportunities such as paid internships and apprenticeships, prior learning assessments that provide academic credit through the evaluation of work portfolios and resumes as well as offering flexible scheduling such as evening and weekend classes.
ACCT suggests offering more child care assistance by providing services on campus or partnering with local providers, particularly since the cost of childcare averages over $10,000 per year, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy research.
The report used three examples of institutions who have already implemented programs to support the community college working population including Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKYCTC), Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) and the Austin Community College (ACC) District.
“I think ACCT has an incredibly important role to play because they bridge the gap between student interest and the leadership of colleges,” said Michael Carren, vice president and head of strategic philanthropy at The Guardian Life Insurance Company which funded the study. “They are very influential and they’re extraordinarily accomplished in both what the colleges need and what the students need.”
LTC, for example, offers the Individualized Technical Studies Program which helps students advance their careers through degree attainment in program areas that exist at the college. Students can earn credits for prior learning experiences including military experience, work training or previous education through flexible courses. From 2014 to 2018, there have been 28 graduates from the program.
SKYCTC developed the online learning platform, SKYFLEX, in order to offer quality education on a flexible schedule for working students. SKYFLEX was initially offered for industrial maintenance technology, engineering and electronics technology and electronics technology degree programs. The model has since expanded to welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) programs.
According to ACC District, 80 percent of their students work and 80 percent attend school part-time. They offer three program options including childcare scholarships, the ACC Children’s Lab School that includes evening care and drop-in care offered alongside the local YMCA.
Carren said that community colleges are in an ideal position to make internal modifications and work with networks so that can help support their students to be successful.
“People automatically hear community college and think college,” he said. “But the first part of community college is community and because of the way community colleges have worked historically over the last 50 years since their inception, they have been connected to support networks in communities.”
ACCT’s reports targeted towards helping their community college trustee board members.
“We are just hoping that they can take away new strategies to think about how their campuses can be more supportive of students and how that is part of their workforce development strategies,” said Beer. “So it’s not just about partnering with businesses, it’s also about supporting students at the same time. And then also to be thinking about some of these emerging issues that are impacting most community college students today.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].