For the nearly 40% of part-time community college students who work full-time jobs, finding enough hours in the day to balance college and career is a major challenge. And as many college leaders can attest, when students become overburdened, college is the first thing to go. If community colleges hope to serve the growing majority of students attending part-time, the task before them is clear: Align program and service delivery to students’ increasingly busy lifestyles.
One of the best ways to do this is to offer students the opportunity to attend college on the weekend. But success on the weekend requires more than just a classroom and a parking spot. We spoke to college leaders who have launched and sustained successful weekend colleges and gathered four imperatives to expand beyond Monday-Friday.
1. Check your assumptions at the door
The most common concerns that we hear about weekend colleges are based on preconceived notions—full-time faculty don’t want to teach on the weekend, two days a week isn’t enough to keep students engaged, duplicating services will drain the college coffers—rather than actual facts.
Leaders at Miami-Dade College confronted these assumptions head-on when they launched their weekend college and found that they weren’t barriers at all. Young faculty embraced the reduction in weekday childcare costs, working students jumped at the opportunity to attend college without sacrificing employment, and a focus on reallocation of existing resources meant that zero additional funding was necessary.
2. Identify and solve a specific problem
Ambitious initiatives like launching a weekend college can quickly go astray without a strategic plan in place. It’s important to start by identifying a specific need that the weekend college will address, which will also serve as a metric for assessing progress.
For example, at Odessa College, college leaders launched their weekend college with the express goal of raising the regional 15% baccalaureate attainment rate. Keeping this goal in mind, Odessa monitors enrollment so that at least 50% of weekend college students attend only on the weekend. This guarantees that their weekend college initiative is creating an access point into higher education for those who previously had none.
3. Reallocation—not replication—of resources is key to financial sustainability
Ensuring that weekend students have equal access to student support services like advising and financial aid counseling is critical to the success of a weekend college. But expanding access doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition.
Leaders at both Miami-Dade and Odessa were able to redistribute resources and staffing to provide weekend students with the same quality of experience as their traditional peers without additional funding. They also advised that colleges begin by offering revenue-generating liberal arts programs on the weekend, to offset any initial costs that may arise.
4. Prioritize quality across the board
While some trial and error is bound to happen when thinking outside the box, to grow successful weekend colleges leaders must maintain rigorous standard of quality. Successful weekend college programs are subject to the same oversight and standards as traditional Monday-Friday programs. Service delivery, instructional programming, and student satisfaction should be evaluated on a regular basis to track progress and ensure sustainability.
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2018 Community College Executive Forum National Meeting