How real work builds student character at these 10 Federal Work Colleges

"Antioch students are strong and prepared to do anything, no matter what comes at them," Antioch College President Jane Fernandes says. "They just know how to figure things out due to the life experiences they're earning through studying and work."

Antioch College President Jane Fernandes was elated when she discovered her college would be formally designated as a Federal Work College by the Department of Education. The work college consortium cultivates collaboration between the universities to ensure their students are earning their degrees, paying their dues and earning invaluable, employable skills in the process.

Work colleges are institutions that mandate that their students work on campus and actively pay off the costs of tuition, housing and other necessary living expenses. A high proportion of the students are first-generation and Pell Grant eligible. Nearly 50% of Sterling College’s 2018 graduates earned their degree without accruing any debt.

Eight other small liberal arts schools are currently designated four-year federal work colleges. Among them are:

  • Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes (Ky.)
  • Berea College in Berea (Ky.)
  • Bethany Global University in Bloomington (Minn.)
  • Blackburn College in Carlinville (Ill.)
  • College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout (Miss.)
  • Kuyper College in Grand Rapids (Mich.)
  • Paul Quinn College in Dallas (Texas)
  • Sterling College in Craftsbury Common (Vt.)
  • Warren Wilson College in Asheville (N.C.)

While Antioch College has been providing cooperative education programs for almost a century, allowing students to earn jobs across the country and earn their way toward a degree, President Fernandes believes the Federal Work Colleges designation takes the Ohio school “to a different level.”

Students who enroll in Antioch now can be provided a grant applied toward their tuition, expanding its access to under-resourced students.

“We want to be affordable and accessible, and this allows us to enroll more students through these grants and programs,” she says.

President Fernandes believes in the benefits of students working through college and is elated more students can experience this pathway. As other schools begin to try to integrate cross-sector academic programs that feature employers, here are several benefits Antioch students enjoy.

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Students have to work to earn their degrees and are evaluated for their work. It’s not busy work either; at Sterling, students who perform poorly can be pulled from the institution. Once students graduate, they’ve learned about the real-life consequences of their action, and having to forge their own path in the real world.

“Antioch students are strong and prepared to do anything, no matter what comes at them,” Fernandes says. “They just know how to figure things out due to the life experiences they’re earning through studying and work.”

Critical thinking

With the employers that President Fernandes has spoken with, the most desired trait they’re looking for employers is critical thinking, confirming similar reports. Fernandes believes that the level of commitment students have working with one another and problem-solving has helped them approach problems at a multi-dimensional level.

Career focus

Because students get exposure to work at an earlier age, they’re flying out of graduation with an elevated understanding of the work that attracts them.

“It’s not only about doing what they want to do. It’s about finding out who they are as people,” Fernandes says. “That’s a good problem.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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