New Report Details Opportunities for Community Colleges to Support Working Students

September 30, 2019

Most community college students work while enrolled. Supporting these students’ success is key to community colleges’ workforce development strategies.

WASHINGTON, DC - The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), with support from The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, today released the first report in a four-part new series detailing critical issues and strategies related to community colleges’ roles in workforce development. The College-Work Balancing Act focuses on the need to support the majority of community college students who work while enrolled by detailing national data on this student population and urging community colleges to employ supports that meet students’ academic and non-academic needs. 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.

“Higher education is a demanding enterprise for any student,” said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown, “and most community college students have to work while they pursue their studies. Through a variety of interventions presented in The College-Work Balancing Act, community college leaders can help to ease the burden on these students so that they can invest their time and their energies in studies and in work that will advance their future careers."

Major takeaways from the report include:

  • Nearly 70% of community college students work while enrolled, often in order to meet their educational and living expenses, rather than to gain career experience. Only one-third of students who work hold a job related to their field of study;
  • Low-income students are unlikely to earn enough to pay for tuition and living expenses without sacrificing their academic progress. Even with financial aid for tuition, low-income students who earn minimum wage would need to work over 20 hours per week to pay for living expenses. Prior research shows that working long hours can have negative impacts on low-income students’ academic performance and can increase their likelihoods of stopping out; and
  • When it is necessary for students to work to meet their financial needs, colleges should whenever possible help make these work experiences meaningful and to tailor their campus environments so that they accommodate the realities of students’ lives. This report highlights several academic and non-academic supports intended to meet the needs of working students, including opportunities for paid work-based learning such as apprenticeships; flexible scheduling options; and access to affordable childcare.

“Many people are aware that working at least part time is a necessity for most community college students,” said Michael Carren, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Guardian. “Our hope is that The College-Work Balancing Act and other papers in the series will provoke community college and business leaders to think about, discuss and develop strategies to help students focus on their studies while obtaining practical, directly applicable work experience.”

Last year, with support from Guardian Life, ACCT released a comprehensive report on community colleges’ role in workforce development, Partnerships for a Future-Ready Workforce. Building on our previous report, ACCT’s new series will give an in-depth look at critical issues and strategies related to community colleges’ roles in workforce development. Over the next year and a half, ACCT will publish three additional reports on the topics of implementing prior learning assessments, meeting needs for upskilling, and adapting to automation in the workforce.

To download the reports, go to


David Conner (ACCT)