What is the Work Colleges Consortium?

The WCC helps advance a very pragmatic approach – the “comprehensive work – learning – service program.”  The WCC supports member institutions in educating promising students, creating valuable work experiences and a service ethic, while helping students to graduate with less debt.

The Work Colleges Consortium (WCC) strives to ensure that member schools are in compliance with the federal regulations. To accomplish this, the WCC (a) conducts research across the institutions to help assess student work-learning and service outcomes; (b) shares best practices; and (c) supports ongoing activities among the colleges in the areas of work-learning-service. The WCC office serves as the liaison to both the U.S. Department of Education and Congressional delegations where warranted. The WCC continues to make every effort to extend our expertise to others.

The Consortium believes that the Work College model provides an unprecedented educational experience for students that should be emulated. The majority of Work College students are first generation college participants. Students graduate with a valued degree, real work experience, and a strong sense of how their work and service contribute to their communities.  They leave college with heightened self-awareness and an understanding of their place in the world and the important contributions they can make as individuals. 

The WCC member colleges operate independently, but all are purpose-driven.  The work-learning-service component is intentional at the Work Colleges. Student work is evaluated, assessed, and supported by trained supervisors and a Dean of Work. Intentional steps are taken to help students manage and balance academics, work, and service activities.

How Many Work Colleges Are There?

The U.S. Department of Education has approved 10 colleges that meet the federal regulations to be designated as Work Colleges. The Work Colleges include: Alice Lloyd College, Berea College, Bethany Global University, Blackburn College, College of the Ozarks, Ecclesia College, Kuyper College, Paul Quinn College, Sterling College, and Warren Wilson College. Not all federally recognized Work Colleges are members of the Consortium.

How do Work Colleges differ from other colleges and universities?

The most notable difference is work.  All resident students at work colleges are required to work every semester for all four years of enrollment. Students work limited hours and gain valuable hands-on work experience while working alongside other students and the faculty and staff work supervisors. The work program on each campus is distinctive and designed to meet campus operational needs and work assignments complement relevant coursework, if possible. Service to campus and the broader community is also integral to the WCC approach. There are hundreds of different campus positions, from food service to the president’s office, from information systems services to finance and accounting, from being a teaching assistant (TA) to working on the college farm. Work College students do it all and they are essential to the daily operations of each campus. Importantly, through the work program, students gain valuable work experience and earn money helping to reduce the cost of tuition. Several colleges provide work / labor grants that fully cover the cost of tuition.

While enhancing the collegiate experience, work colleges help reduce student debt. And student Work Programs excel at cultivating career-ready qualities like responsibility and work ethic. Work assignments can support and complement a student’s field of study.  Work positions also introduce students to new opportunities including student-powered industries involving crafts, hospitality, and sustainable agriculture. Students learn there is value in all types of work.

Can other colleges and universities become Work Colleges?

Yes. Colleges who meet the federal guidelines LINK HERE may apply to the U.S. Department of Education for consideration.

Federal Regulations
§675.43   Purpose

The purpose of the Work-Colleges program is to recognize, encourage, and promote the use of comprehensive work-learning-service programs as a valuable educational approach when it is an integral part of the institution's educational program and a part of a financial plan that decreases reliance on grants and loans and to encourage students to participate in community service activities.

Key elements of the Work Colleges programs are:

All resident students including at least one-half of all students enrolled on a full-time basis are required to participate in a comprehensive work-learning-service program for enrollment and graduation.

The college must provide programmatic leadership by college personnel for the comprehensive work-learning-service-program that is comparable to a traditional academic program. Work Colleges have “Work Deans.”

Work-learning-service is a stated part of the institution’s educational philosophy and program.

There are consequences for non-performance or failure in the work-learning-service program that parallel consequences for non-performance in a regular academic program.

Is a Work College a new concept?

No. Member colleges' work programs have a rich history—some with more than 100 years of a proven track record. Several work colleges were founded as a way to help provide an education to those students who did not have the means or access to attend school. At other work colleges - work and service were fundamental to their beliefs and operations and woven into their mission and culture from the beginning.

Who is eligible to attend a Work College?

Work Colleges are open to everyone. However, each college has its own admission office and eligibility requirements. LINKS TO COLLEGES?

Does work detract from our students’ academic performance?

Working on campus in a supportive environment has been shown to have a positive effect on college persistence and degree completion. Students must work a minimum of five hours per week or at least 80 hours per semester. Most students average between 6 and 15 hours per week depending on which work college they attend. Some students can work up to 20 hours per week with special permission, depending on the requirements of which college they attend.

Who manages the work force?

Each college has a structure for work that parallels the academic structure, including a Dean of Work (as required by federal regulations) who oversees the entire work program. Students have assigned work positions with supervisors who oversee their day-to-day tasks and help mentor and evaluate performance. Supervisors include faculty, staff and student managers who receive specific management training. Blackburn College’s work program is completely student-managed.

How are students compensated for their work?

Work Colleges share the goal of helping students reduce college debt upon graduation.  Wages are considered “self-help payments.” Wages at most work colleges are applied directly to the cost of tuition. Students contribute financially to the cost of their education through participation in the work program. Some colleges provide a “grant” to cover the cost of tuition, while other colleges provide reduced tuition to students.  All work colleges comply with appropriate state and federal employment laws. 

What financial impact will does this have on an institution’s budget? 

Because work is mandatory for all resident students and because and all work is compensated (work helps to offset or fully cover tuition), operating a work college is not inexpensive. Just like employees in any work position, the students must work the required hours in order to be paid appropriately and those who work over the required number of hours must be compensated.  Therefore, student hours are carefully tracked.

How are work assignments made?

Work assignments are based on the needs of each campus and the mission of each institution. First year students (incoming freshman) are typically assigned a work position. However, as students gain skills and expertise, they may apply for various campus positions and work their way through the ranks to managerial positions. Some students even hold positions considered “essential personnel”. 

How many hours are students required to work? Are there federal requirements?

Work College students are required to work a minimum of five hours a week or 80 hours per semester, based on the federal requirements. Work assignments average between 8-15 hours a week.

All resident students are required to work and the job responsibilities are integrated into each student’s schedule. With the help of a supervisor, students learn to effectively manage responsibilities for studies and their work. Additional federal guidelines for Work Colleges are available here.

What is the difference between Federal Work-Study (FWS) and Work Colleges?

FWS is an OPTIONAL choice for those students who meet financial requirements.

At Work Colleges – All resident students are REQUIRED to work regardless of their financial circumstances. You cannot buy your way out of the “work program.”

There are no formal support systems, evaluations, or performance measures for FWS.

Work College students are evaluated, they receive constructive advice, and help with work and career preparation. Importantly, Work College students contribute directly to the daily operation of their campus. We often say “if the students didn’t show up work, the colleges could not operate.”

FWS students receive a paycheck for their work – there is no formal program to help them pay for their college expenses.

At Work Colleges student earnings are considered scholarship and applied directly to the cost of tuition. *At Berea College students receive a small paycheck to help cover personal needs, books, etc.