Working students look to community colleges for balance

New report shows the strains on students who are tying to stay on top of studies while holding down jobs
By: | October 28, 2020
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A new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement and the Trellis Foundation shows that the majority of incoming students they surveyed have jobs off campus and that faculty and staff can play a huge role in helping them achieve balance and future success.

Of the nearly 24,000 respondents across 74 colleges who responded to the Center’s 2019 Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), 69% said they were employed. Nearly 30% of those said they work full-time, and another 15% said they are working two jobs. However, most are not working on campus or even in fields in which they plan to work but say that “working determines how they are enrolled.”

In The Intersection of Work and Learning report, students expressed the need to have jobs to be able to attend college and pay for expenses. Nearly 65% who work say that their jobs and their schoolwork are equally as important.

That statistic and others, the Center says, underscore the need for those institutions to provide guidance and services to help them in their pathways. With community colleges struggling to keep enrollment numbers high during the pandemic, it might also offer a bridge to students who might be looking at other options.

“Communication is key in helping community college students navigate the complexities of life. The more colleges can build relationships with students while continuing to be flexible, the more successful they will be at helping students achieve their goals,” said Linda García, executive director of the center, is research arm of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin.

One of the most telling stats shows the potential disconnect between students and their colleges – 83% of students who are employed said their instructors do not know how many hours they work. Only 4% said they all know. Another 81% said no one helped them try to balance classwork and their jobs. However, the report noted they become far more engaged when they feel a personal connection with instructors and their colleges.

Students who attend community colleges are facing enormous pressures and time constraints in trying to work and build a promising future. More than a third said working interferes with taking courses they need to further their careers. Another 17% noted they had miss class at least once in the first three weeks of school. And that was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the most affected groups of students was those in older age brackets. Some 60% of students ages 30-64 say they are working more than 40 hours per week. And it isn’t just older generations facing challenges. Some 45% of those ages 22-24 noted they too are working beyond 40 hours.

To meet the needs of those students, the Center offered three quick strategies to help community colleges. Among them:

  • Consider schedules and the number of courses you are offering to students, making sure they are as as robust and flexible as possible;
  • Closely look at the content within those classes to ensure that they are relevant to the fields students will be working in;
  • And ensure that instructors are in fact taking an interest in their students and heeding any concerns.