New ACCT Report: College-Work Balancing Act

Nearly 70% of community college students work while enrolled. ACCT’s new report discusses how colleges can meet the realities of students’ lives and help them earn their degree.

The typical community college student has long been the student who balances multiple responsibilities in addition to their academic courses. For community college students, working either full- or part-time while pursuing their degree is the norm. Their reasons for working while in college are varied; some of these reasons include insufficient financial aid to pay for tuition and living expenses, the need to support a family, or the desire to gain career experience or remain in the workforce. In a new brief--as part of a 4-part series addressing community colleges and workforce needs--ACCT provides an in-depth analysis of how community colleges can support working students achieve their educational goals.

National data from the U.S. Department of Education National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) indicates that as of 2016, over two-thirds of community college students work while enrolled.Students may have various motivations for working, such as needing to pay the costs of tuition and living expenses not covered by financial aid; providing financial support to their family; or wanting to gain career experience. National data indicating that most students who work have unmet financial need and hold a job that is unrelated to their college major, suggests that their decision to work is primarily financial rather than about gaining career experience. Furthermore, trends of the percentage of community college students who work while enroll vary by demographic characteristics. Students most likely to have a job while enrolled include females (70%) and students between the ages of 24 to 29 (71%). Independent students, particularly those with their own dependents (71%), are also more likely to work compared to community college students overall.

Working students face several added challenges in pursuing their degrees, including balancing the time required to fulfill their work and family responsibilities; maintaining academic success; paying for college costs and living expenses; and integrating to campus life. While these challenges are not unique to students who work, the added time demands of working part- of full-time can intensify common barriers to persisting through college and completing a degree. Thus, it is important for colleges to implement support services specifically tailored to the needs of working students. Students can benefit from supports geared towards meeting a combination of their academic, financial, and family needs.  

Our full report includes details about different types of supports including work-based learning, awarding credit for prior learning, flexible scheduling, and expanded childcare programs. The report also highlights three examples of initiatives that recognize the unique needs of working students from Lakeshore Technical College, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, and Austin Community College District.

Listen to our podcast to hear the report co-authors discuss key takeaways. 

About ACCT Now

Community College Insights & Perspectives

ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

Washington D.C. skyline