How can colleges help work and learning successfully coexist?

Most students who attend community college work, but many instructors don’t know the extent of their students’ employment, according to new research from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). The report, titled “The Intersection of Work and Learning,” suggests that, when staff and faculty talk with students about maintaining a healthy work-learning balance, those students may be more likely to succeed in school. 

Among the nearly 25,000 students surveyed across 74 colleges, 15 percent of the students who work for pay said they hold at least two jobs. Other key findings:

  • Thirty-five percent of working part-time students and 21 percent of working full-time students said they work more than 40 hours per week. 
  • Half of all entering students who work said their work requirements had made it difficult to schedule their classes.
  • Two-thirds of survey respondents said working and being a student are equally important.

The responses show the importance of helping students integrate both work and academics as they pursue their long-term goals, the report authors note. Most faculty don’t currently know how many hours individual students work alongside their studies. However, “the data suggest there is value in talking with students about not only the work they want to do in the future, but also the work they are currently doing,” they write. 

Those conversations, in turn, can help students achieve a better balance—and prompt them to speak up when outside challenges threaten their academic progress. At Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Missouri, students complete a survey about their extracurricular and work obligations. Those answers enable advisors to work with individual students on their academic plan and have made clear the value of MCC’s flexible scheduling options.

Students that work “are our future and we need to invest in our future,” Dr. Tod Allen Farmer, president of Weatherford College, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “The working students are going to be our leaders in the next generation and they will shape our society. It is imperative that we support them and help them become productive citizens.”

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