By Suzanne Weiss / Director of Public Relations
The average debt of college students in Wisconsin increased by 74 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to The Institute of College Access and Success.
One option to combat debt that students may not be aware of is the Work College program, adopted by seven institutions nationwide, including Silver Lake College of the Holy Family in Manitowoc.
In a move that College President Dr. Chris E. Domes called a “watershed moment,” Silver Lake College is poised to become the first Catholic College in the United States to become a Work College. It is a program that sets Silver Lake College apart from other institutions of higher learning.
The college’s program, called SLC Works, incorporates work into its curriculum to offset the cost of tuition. Instead of wrestling to squeeze in time for a 6-hour night shift at a local fast-food restaurant or working the exhausting weekend babysitting job, each student will receive a schedule with work pre-built into it.
Starting this fall, all new Silver Lake College residential freshmen and transfer students will participate as a condition of enrollment. In exchange for 10 hours of required weekly work, they will receive a $2,800 tuition credit per academic year to be applied toward their educational costs.
Work College graduates report their college costs to be significantly lower than those of their peers. Eighty-eight percent of Work College graduates recently surveyed said that their work program experience was an important way to reduce their college costs, according to the Work Colleges Consortium.
Not only does a Work College program reduce debt, it provides skills and work experience that are valuable now and will be later on. In other words, students are building their résumés while earning a degree and increasing their potential when they try to land that first job after graduation.
Silver Lake College students will be given jobs according to their interests, skills, and work experience. These jobs can range from working in the library to food service, academic tutoring, technology, athletics, public relations, marketing, work program management, and research.
Freshmen and sophomores will be given on-campus positions that help them concentrate on improving their liberal arts skills, such as communication and critical thinking.
Juniors and seniors will focus on moving up the ranks to supervisory positions on and off campus, including internships in their field of study, so they can apply their management skills and put into practice what they have learned.
“I’m very excited about how ultimately this will help our students with their professional development, personal development and intellectual experience on campus. All of those things will be enhanced by the opportunity to have professional work experience while they’re in school,” Dr. Domes said.
Because students are working and studying in an environment specifically structured for this balance, they will develop a skill set that ensures a readiness for the professional world.
The College plans to officially apply for Work College status in the near future (institutions first must have at least two years of Work College programs under their belts before they are eligible).
The Work College program and a federal work-study program have similar elements. They both involve working with the institution to pay for college, but the methodology is really quite different.
To be a part of a work-study program, one must apply and be considered eligible for financial aid. This is not the case for the Work College program, which is open to everyone.
Work College earnings are counted directly toward tuition, while work-study programs award students with paychecks.
By offering each student a method of paying for college (while still in college) and developing professional and academic skills, the Work College program educates the whole person.
Silver Lake College’s new Work College program, SLC Works, builds on a long Franciscan tradition that values work. Working and developing the skills and ethics associated with work are fundamental to the Franciscan tradition from its earliest beginnings. The college offers a culture of collaboration, community, respect and servant leadership that are foundational to its Franciscan values.
Private schools sometimes carry the stigma of being too expensive. Truth is, they’re not. The private-school path is wider than you might think. When weighing college options, keep in mind — Wisconsin private colleges hold a reputation of being generous in financial aid awards.
If you are looking for the added benefit of a Catholic education grounded in Franciscan values, the opportunity to gain valuable work experience while in college and a great way to help pay tuition, Silver Lake College just might “work” for you.