A Work College experience is very different from work study or holding a job while in college.

Each of the Work Colleges evolved over time into what they promote today. All were founded through humble means: Students who wanted an education but could not afford one, and colleges with modest budgets that wanted to provide an education. 

Work Colleges evolved from a practical solution—allowing students to work and assist with the college’s institutional functions and operations. Today, that means everything from technology to accounting and finance, faculty research to kitchen operations, and farm chores to the President’s office. Work College students do it all.

The seven Work Colleges are federally defined and follow specific guidelines and regulations. Each college has a work program structure that parallels that of an academic program including a Dean of Work and consequences for non-performance.  

The current federal guidelines for the Work Colleges can be read here or downloaded here. They are not complicated, but in reality can be challenging to implement effectively. Although the Work-Learning-Service approach compensates student workers, it is very different from Federal Work Study. Here is an infographic that details how the two programs compare.

Student work does offset some campus operational costs, but it is Not about creating cost-saving measures or reducing operating costs. Managing a work program that can employ all resident students comes with its own set of direct and indirect expenses. The Work College model is holistic and touches on all aspects of campus and college life.

Following are some of the initial requirements and considerations for institutions interested in becoming a Work College. Federal guidelines require an eligible Work College:

  • is a public or private nonprofit, four-year, degree granting institution with a commitment to community service;
  • has operated a comprehensive work-learning-service program for at least two years;
  • requires all resident students who are enrolled on a full-time basis, to participate in a comprehensive work-learning-service program* for at least five hours each week, or at least 80 hours during each period of enrollment, except summer school, unless the student is engaged in an institutionally organized or approved study abroad or externship program; and
  • provides students participating in the comprehensive work-learning-service program with the opportunity to contribute to their education and to the welfare of the community as a whole.

A comprehensive Work-Learning-Service program must have the following components:

  • is an integral and stated part of the institution’s educational philosophy and program;
  • requires participation of all resident students for enrollment and graduation;
  • includes learning objectives, evaluation, and a record of work performance as part of the student’s college record;
  • provides programmatic leadership by college personnel at levels comparable to traditional academic programs;
  • recognizes the educational role of work-learning-service supervisors; and
  • includes consequences for nonperformance or failure in the work-learning-service program similar to the consequences for failure in the regular academic program.

Becoming a Work College requires a fully holistic approach and buy-in across campus stakeholders. It calls for as much philosophical shift as an operational change. Work Colleges view the Work-Learning-Service approach as tantamount to their missions.

Over and above eligibility requirements, institutions should assess what system changes might be needed to become a Work College. Here are a few initial questions:

  • Does your college have a campus culture (supported by administration, faculty & staff, student body, Board or governing body, alumni and financial donors) that will embrace the tradition and dignity of work?
  • Do you currently have a student-centered work culture on your campus?
  • Do students contribute to institutional operations?
  • Are student jobs supervised and/or evaluated for learning opportunities? What is the purpose of student work?
  • How are students paid, if at all, and at what rate of pay?
  • Is student work financially compensated? From what sources?
  • Is there operational and management infrastructure that supports student work?

More Fast Facts about Becoming a Work College are here.