Creative Student “Work” Exchange


Students are seeking a lower cost option for college and parents are facing “sticker-shock” for higher education in private colleges.  Higher education is facing more enrollment challenges due to costs, but if those costs could be lowered through a work exchange program then more students would be able to financially afford NWC.  

Furthermore, research has found that college students typically earn higher grades when working part-time during college.  It helps students structure their time and is a good non-academic way to connect with people.  In addition, local communities need employees as they face very low unemployment rates. Local organizations can help students build experience, skills, and a professional network while the organization benefits from the labor and talent of NWC students.  The organization also “wins” financially through a new twist on an old idea – giving students hands-on work experience before they graduate. Working in college promotes a strong work ethic and encourages the development of good character and values. A work exchange program allows students to personally contribute in a significant way to their college experience and the betterment of the local community.

Ideas from Other Institutions

College of the Ozarks

The College of the Ozarks is viewed as an innovative leader in college work programs.  Their “Hard Work U” program allows tuition free college education.  Their work program follows a structured schedule as seen here.  In addition, they clarify requirements and policieswell such as how work hours cannot be exchanged for cash.  In addition, they value the work so much that work performance records are included as a performance grade each semester and becomes a part of the student’s permanent record.

Other Supportive Facts from Others

The National Center for Education Statistics, the Journal of College Student Retention and the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice have all published research that suggests that students can benefit from working part-time. Researches for the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that students who worked less than 20 hours per week had an average GPA of 3.13, while nonworking students had an average GPA of 3.04.  “Parental Transfers, Student Achievement and the Labor Supply of College Students” in the Journal of Population Economics reports that students who work part-time have slightly higher grade point averages than students who don’t work.

Suggestions for Northwestern

NWC should create a work exchange program with local organizations and create a fund to accept donations from organizations toward our work exchange program to then cover the student’s costs.  For example, NWC accepts an incoming freshman student, “Max”, and Max is accepted into the work exchange program to help cover his room & board for freshman year. Max must be eligible for the program, meeting expectations such as 2.5 GPA, enrolled as full-time student for the previous semester, positive references, and more.  Then, Max is assigned to a local organization such as Diamond Vogel for employment. Max works approximately 15 hours a week but receives no paycheck or compensation from them.  However, each month Max earns a partial coverage of his room & board for the semester.  This coverage is provided through the donations in the fund program. There may need to be “internship” credit involved legally, so this is something to further investigate.

If Max works 15 hours for 15 weeks earning $12 an hour, then he can earn a NWC credit of $2,700 towards room and board for the semester.  Students could have the option of working more weekly hours, over breaks, and during summers if agreements are made between the student, NWC, and the organization.  The rate of pay can be predetermined through a donation agreement between the Advancement Office and the organization.  A new innovation center could be used as a means to process the exchange between students and businesses in conjunction with Advancement for donations and Career Development for any workplace skills analysis.  NWC will need to do most of the legwork of recruiting, vetting, placement, background checks, and student training on basic workplace skills and work ethic.  

More time should be spent investigating and learning from the Work Colleges Consortium, a group of distinctive student-centered liberal arts colleges promoting the purposeful integration of Work-Learning-Service while helping to reduce the cost of education. In addition, deeper conversations with Advancement and legal counsel for employment need to occur.  This work exchange program may also see a fit with online students that are able to work online for local employers and have payment directed towards tuition instead of room and board expenses.  

Strategic Plan

Goal 2 – Prepare students for meaningful work and flourishing lives

Goal 3 – Pursue strategic enrollment growth

Additional Resources

 “Title: 34 Education Subpart C-Work Colleges Program”. eCFR Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. US Government Publishing Office.

Calvary University – Study Work Program

Blackburn College – Work Program

Berea College – Tuition Promise Scholarship