By Adriana Elizondo
With the national student debt standing at nearly $1.6 trillion and climbing, Northeast Texas Community College offers an alternative way to finance college through its unique work scholarship program.
Students in the Work4College program earn a wage while also creating a fund for tuition that allows them the chance to attend college without generating debt.
Those accepted into the program can work a maximum of 15 hours per week and earn $15 per hour.
Half of the income goes into their pockets and the rest goes into an account for tuition and fees.
The 10-week program, piloted in 2014 as Work Scholarship, is about to begin for its sixth summer with approximately 70 students participating this year. NTCC Vice President for Advancement, Dr. Jon McCullough, said the number of students working to earn their college tuition has quadrupled since the program began.
McCullough said the Work4College program has helped a large number of students avoid accumulating student loan debt to pay for classes.
“One thing that makes a student a better student is not having to stress about their finances,” said McCullough.
NTCC is currently the only community college in the state of Texas that offers this type of work scholarship program to its students. Seven universities have similar programs, but they are all private four-year schools.
Work4College is privately funded through donations from local community members, businesses and private foundations.
In November 2018, the Greater Texas Foundation awarded NTCC a $250,000 grant that has also contributed to the success of the program.
Over the years, students have worked in jobs on campus ranging from maintenance, information technology, student services, athletics, student housing, the automotive shop, the library, the college farm and as lab assistants.
Some students have been able to earn money for college tuition and fees before they even begin attending college.
Students can participate in the Work4College program for two years.
“We are teaching our students how to work. These are real jobs, their hands are getting dirty,” McCullough said. “If students weren’t doing the work, then someone else would have to do it. That is what we call meaningful work.”
Biomedical Science major, Jazmin Garcia, has participated in the work scholarship program for the past two years.
She said the program has helped pay for classes that her financial aid did not cover and assisted with the purchase of books and other supplies.
“I had first heard about the program from my high school,” Garcia said. “I knew I was going to need money to pay for school, so I figured I would go ahead and submit my application and see what happened.”
During her first year, Garcia worked as a receptionist with student services. Besides earning money for college, she said the opportunity to work on campus also helped her develop better communication skills.
After completing her second year in the program, Garcia was hired on at the college as an employee.
Students are also required to take a three-hour leadership course as they go through the summer program.
The weekly class offers instructions on everything from writing resumes to developing time management and interviewing skills.
The course also educates students on the processes involved in taking out student loans and encourages them to avoid going into debt.
Student workers must also complete a community service project as a part of the program.
Work4College has become successful over the years, now other schools including Angelina College, Weatherford College and College of the Mainland have reached out to NTCC to learn how they can incorporate the program onto their campuses.
McCullough said the Greater Texas Foundation grant has provided funding to hire a consultant to develop a how-to manual that Northeast can share with other colleges.
“A rising tide lifts all ships,” McCullough said. “The college believes if something good is happening, we don’t want to be the only ones with the program.
We see how good it’s doing in our community, and we want others to benefit from it, too.”
If the number of student workers increases to 100 in the future, McCullough said the next goal would be to also pilot the program in the fall and spring semesters and possibly even offer a version in local high schools.
McCullough said he is excited about the growth of the Work4College program and the interest it has generated in other colleges across the state.
“To think that one day other community colleges will also have this plan in effect and it all started here at NTCC,” McCullough said.
Over the years, the Work4College program has evolved in many ways. McCullough said he is proud of the direction it is currently headed.
“The Work4College Program has turned into so much more than just a summer job,” McCullough said. “Students learn to work, they give back through community service, and they pay off their tuition and fees in advance. They are getting their education the old fashioned way, they are earning it.”