Can work colleges help solve the student debt crisis?

A quick look at the pros & cons of this innovative model

Americans currently owe a combined $1.3 trillion on their student loans, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s more than double the amount owed just a decade ago—and nearly four in 10 adults under the age of 30 are now paying off debt from their education.

As student debt becomes a mounting problem, college and university leaders are looking for solutions to control rising costs and ensure that all students have access to a higher education. One possible solution that is receiving more attention lately is the “work college” model, in which all students are required to work for all four years of their education. Administrators track and evaluate students’ work performance, just as they do with academics—and this work offsets the cost of tuition for students.

Although work colleges have existed for many decades, interest in this model appears to be growing as rising college costs have forced more young adults to take out loans to pay for their education, putting financial stress on recent graduates.

How work colleges operate
Federally recognized work colleges must meet certain requirements, and in return they receive federal funding to operate their programs. As of press time, there were fewer than 10 such institutions in the United States. However, in just the last few years, two new institutions have joined their ranks. Paul Quinn College, a historically black college in Dallas, became the first urban work college in 2016, and Bethany Global University in Minnesota also recently became a work college.

What’s more, Silver Lake College in Wisconsin is looking to become a work college, this PBS story reports. And Paul Quinn College plans to start a national system of urban work colleges, according to the Hechinger Report—joining forces with Kuyper College in Michigan and Wilberforce University in Ohio.

At most work colleges, students assume jobs on campus. However, Paul Quinn College has taken advantage of its urban location to partner with area employers so that students have many options for working on or off campus as part of their education.

eSchool Media Contributors