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F.A.Q: Work Colleges Consortium

 1.  What is a work college?

The term work college is defined in several ways: (A) in terms of the culture that flows from being a work college; (B) in terms of the benefits derived; and (C) in terms of federal legislation defining the role of these colleges in higher education.

  1. Culture/ What separates a work college from every other college is the environment that dignifies all student work and promotes that work as an important feature of the educational process.  Each worker is expected to value his or her own contribution to the community and to respect the contributions of all other members.  Consequently, students are required to take seriously the importance of their work and be held accountable for failure to participate.  Students must engage in the work of the community throughout the course of the educational process.  The work program is integral to the educational process, rather than an appended requirement.
  2. Benefits/ Work College campuses derive benefits from the contributions of students who share a belief in the purposes and mission of the institution they serve.  Relationships go beyond the classroom and provide additional forums for involvement in the development of students.  Students have reduced debt, practical work experience, true integration of work and academics, expanded opportunities to engage in service to both the college and the broader community, and a guided and evaluated experience designed to maximize learning.
  3. Legislation/ Federal legislation largely confirms the purposes expressed by the work colleges themselves.  The legislation articulates publicly the need for work programs to encourage debt reduction, career opportunity, and service.  It points out that the work programs are comprehensive.  This is understood to mean that work colleges are residential campuses where all resident students are expected to work in campus supervised and evaluated jobs in every semester of the educational experience.  Exceptions are currently made only for those engaged in alternate experiential learning opportunities such as internships, study abroad semesters, or student teaching.  The legislation makes it clear that leadership and management of the work program should be provided by program officers in roles equivalent to those responsible for the academic program.  In addition to allocating money, the legislation allows the use of federal funds for a longitudinal study of the benefits of the work colleges.

2.  Most college students work.  How do jobs in the work colleges differ?

Work College students are involved in jobs supervised and created as a part of the College's work program.  In each case, attention has been paid to the way that jobs fits into the campus and how that job can be integrated into the academic life of the student.  Supervisors and work program administrators work with students to assure that there are no conflicts with academic expectations, to facilitate increasingly responsible and major related work experiences over time, and to provide evaluated learning opportunities in all student jobs.  Rather than seeing work as an "add on" that is in the way, faculty and staff at the work colleges respect the fact that their students work and the work their students do. 

3.  How many work colleges are there?

(A) There are currently seven colleges in the United States that meet the federal definition of a work college.  This is amazing as there were hundreds in the mid 19th century.  These Colleges are members of the Work Colleges Consortium, along with one associate member.  (B) There are also some other colleges that share the culture and benefits of the work colleges, but do not meet the federal definition.

A. Work Colleges Consortium Members

Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky

Berea College in Berea, Kentucky

Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois

College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri

Ecclesia College in Springdale, Arkansas

Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont 

Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina

Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California. (Associate membership)*

*Deep Springs College, in Deep Springs, California, is an accredited college that requires all students to work.  An associate member of the Work Colleges Consortium, Deep Springs does not seek federal funds and, consequently, has not been recognized as a work college by the federal government.

B. Other Colleges that share the culture and benefits of a work college.

  1. Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia.  While Berry College does not currently require work of all of its students, the college's commitment to work and to providing quality positions for all students has been ongoing.
  2. Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Knoxville College has reclaimed their work program, a program that was extremely active until the late 1920s.  Knoxville College is currently involved in efforts for accreditation.  Such accreditation is required for federal recognition or membership in the Work Colleges Consortium.

4.  Is student labor really important to the institution?

Yes.  One of the defining characteristics of the work colleges is a reliance on student labor to help the colleges run.  All the colleges in the Consortium need their students' work hours and demonstrated ability.  Many students perform professional tasks at a professional level at the work colleges.  For example, Blackburn College gives the students a tremendous amount of responsibility for the administration of the work program and, as such, employs only one-third the amount of full-time staff an institution of comparable size would employ.  Professional staff are "teaching supervisors" who teach/coach/mentor a principally student workforce.  

5.  How big are the work colleges?

The size of the work colleges varies widely.  The smallest member of the Work Colleges Consortium is our associate work college, Deep Springs College, with a total enrollment of 23 students.  The smallest full member of the Consortium is Sterling College with an enrollment of approximately 80 students.  On the other end of the spectrum, both Berea College and College of the Ozarks each have over 1,500 students.

6.  Do students find their own jobs or are they assigned?

Ultimately, all of the work has to get done.  Administrators work with students to assure all is accomplished and, consequently, students sometimes work in jobs that are not their first preference.  But how this is accomplished and the range of possibilities depends on the College.  The question that is often asked is "Should we hire someone else to do this work for us, or can we be responsible for it ourselves?" Practices and procedures for assigning jobs vary widely.  In some cases, first-year students are assigned to whichever departments need their services.  After completing the first year, students are then given the option to apply for a campus job that best suits their major, interests, and/or prospective careers.  Often students compete for choice positions.  On some campuses a great deal of efforts is expended to assure that students move into the campus area they think they will prefer and encouraged to remain in the same department until graduation.  Other campuses emphasize the importance of working for a wide range of departments.  While practices vary widely, institutional policies in this regard are intentional and related to the philosophy of the College and of the student work program.

7.  Which students work?

The answer to that question is part of what makes work colleges so special.  At each of the work colleges, all resident students are required to work every semester that they are in College.  This expectation extends to students whether they are athletes, veterans, parents, or demonstrate no financial need.  This system of universal work participation firmly establishes an understanding of the dignity inherent in all work and helps foster a sense of unity coming from that understanding.  Exceptions are rare and are only granted in the most serious circumstances. 

8.  How are students compensated for their work?

As is the case for college student employment in general, the amount of compensation students receive is variable within government guidelines.  In several of the Colleges, student accounts are credited with funds as their hours are completed.  At other Colleges, grants ranging from $1800 to $2800 per year are first credited to the students' accounts.  Additionally many students receive a check.  Some students may receive checks for all or part of their work, especially if they work hours beyond those required.  Student work opportunities are designed to help students to reduce debt and meet college expenses as far as is possible.

9.  What kinds of jobs are available?

The jobs available at the work colleges are as wonderfully diverse as the colleges themselves.  Students at all of the work colleges share certain basic jobs like tutoring and working as teaching assistants.  Students also share responsibilities in food service, care of the physical plant, and general office work.  But opportunities go far beyond these positions.  Sterling College has both a farm and a working wood lot.  In the former, nurturing animals, including midget rams, is the agenda.  In the latter, students apply what they learn in the classroom about sustainable agriculture and woodland management.  The College of the Ozarks gives students the opportunity to work in a functioning airport, service airplanes, and provide other necessary ground support.   They also have a working water-driven mill.  Berea College employs students in over 120 departments, including Boone Tavern Hotel, several crafts industries, the college farms, and their own electric plant.  Students at Alice Lloyd College run a radio station, repair computers, and operate a day-care center for their community.  Warren Wilson College engages students in sustainable agriculture, operates and manages their own vegetarian dining hall, and operates an extensive recycling operation.  Blackburn College employs 70 students as managers, assistant managers and crew heads who, along with other students, are responsible for major facets of the College's operation.  Deep Springs is a working cattle ranch where students assist in reclaiming the dessert to provide food and resources to run the community. 

10.  How many hours do students typically work?

90 % of all work college students work a minimum of 140 hours per semester.  Commonly those hours must be worked in 10-15 hour per week segments, as their contribution is needed throughout the year.  Occasionally, students put in extra hours during holidays or weekends.  Often, students want to work more hours in addition to their requirements.  This requires a special arrangement, but the colleges strive to provide additional opportunities when appropriate.  What separates the jobs at work colleges from those entry-level positions held by undergraduates at other universities is not the number of hours worked but rather the level of guidance, responsibility, and respect given to students in their jobs and the acknowledgement of the learning opportunities available within the context of the work. 

11.  What happens if students don�t work?

Work at the member institutions of the Work Colleges Consortium is both similar and dissimilar to work in the �real world.�  Like the work environment outside the ivory tower, there are repercussions for work poorly done or unexplained absences.  Each of the work colleges has a multi-step disciplinary system set up which can ultimately result in suspension.  Unlike the �real world,� however, the colleges are places to learn, so several opportunities, meetings and interventions are attempted when a student has difficulty related to work.  Eventually, either the student realizes the importance of his or her work and fully participates in the work program or he/she is suspended.

12.  Do students supervise other students?

Yes.  Whether formalized or not, a work hierarchy exists at most, if not all, of the work colleges and an important component of that is students, usually those who are older and more experienced in the department, providing supervision to other, less experienced, students.  A common fear among those individuals not familiar with the work colleges is that allowing student supervision of their peers would damage relations between students, causing supervisor-employee rifts, departmental contention, and a degradation of both the work and the educational process.  At the work colleges, however, the very culture of the institutions guard against that.  At our schools, students respect each other regardless of their position on the hierarchy, top or bottom.  What happens at the work place stays at the work place, everything, that is, except for the feelings of unity and admiration for each other.

13.  Does the work program interfere with the institution�s academic program?

Each member of the Work Colleges Consortium provides a quality liberal arts education for all of their graduates.  The work programs enhance rather than detract from this focus.  Academics and work are seen as partners in the educational process.  Work serves as both a context for learning and a laboratory for the application of knowledge.  The institutions that make up the Work Colleges Consortium are respected members of the higher education community, offering exemplary academic opportunities.

CPO 2163 - Berea College
Berea, KY 40404
Phone: (859) 985-3154 - Fax: (859) 985-3989
Email:  Executive Director

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