Working Students

Recently there were articles in both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed about working students in higher education. Probably not a surprise to most of you, there were many statistics that emphasize, and reemphasize, the hurdles that many of the working students at MCC must go through to attend college. The report discussed in the article from Inside Higher Ed claimed that “the working poor who take college courses think of themselves as students first and employees second.” The report also listed recommendations to help working poor students; all of those listed in the article have to be implemented by either the federal government (or other student aid decision makers) and individual institutions. None of the recommendations focused on what individual instructors can do in their specific classes.

Similarly the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education also discussed working students; however, the report from the Chronicle’s article discussed two different types of working students: the type of working student listed above and another younger, “financially dependent on their parents, and who graduated from high school with a regular diploma” who looked more like traditional full-time students. Interestingly, the report from the Chronicle’s article mentioned that 47% of the students who worked while enrolled “considered themselves employees first and students second.”

I have two questions:

  1. what’s up with the conflicting commenting about whether or not students think of themselves as students or employees first?
  2. what can individual instructors due to recognize and support our working students?

As for the first question, I think my question turns into another question: how can we get our students to consider themselves students first and to prioritize their time/energy accordingly (obviously w/o dismissing their families or sleep)? I wonder if it might help to give students roll models of individuals who sanely worked their way through school and then succeeded afterwards. We might also provide them with tools prior to registration that help them adequately self-evaluate the available time and energy they have for an upcoming semester.

As for the second question, I know that technology has helped me with working students. Last year I had a student who came to me after spring break and said “guess what, I got a promotion!” After I congratulated her, I responded with “let me guess, you now have to work Thursday nights?” Of course she did! And our class only met once a week, Thursday nights. And the last thing I wanted to do was “punish” her for getting a promotion. Thankfully, I already had all of the students doing their reading and viewing journals on blogs; therefore, we were able to work out a method for her to continue reading, viewing, blogging, and dialogging with her classmates in the blogs.

Although I don’t think various learning technologies are the panacea for the problem of supporting working students, I do think that we can spend some time thinking about how we might make a course “hybrid” or “blended” if we have a student who all of a sudden can not participate in a traditional manner. I’m not suggesting that instructors teach “overload” courses; however, can we start having easy-to-implement plans C and D bouncing around in the back of our minds. Obviously we are committed to helping our students succeed, what are other ways we can help our students balance their academic, personal, professional, and civic lives?

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