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Working to earn and learn

by Jennifer Langham
Pacific Review, spring 2016

College students who are working and learning at the same time are not alone. In fact, over the past 25 years, they have become the new normal.

New research from Georgetown University has found that more than 70 percent of college students have been working while enrolled, juggling the three-fold demands of school, work and other life challenges. 

And these students are no strangers to Pacific, where they can earn undergraduate or professional degrees that can make an immediate impact on their lives, and by extension, on our communities and society. 

Just ask Luis Reyes '16 and Sraineth Flores '16

Luis Reyes and Sraineth Flores have small but very important reasons for completing their degrees from Pacific: preschool-age daughters for whom they want to be role models. 

"I realized after she was born that I wanted to go back to college to show her the importance of education," said Reyes. "I'll be the first in my family to earn a college degree, and I hope my daughter achieves even more than me when she gets older."

gear icon  and Flores are not alone — they are part of the fastest-growing segment of college students in the country: working learners.

A 2015 report from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, "Learning While Earning: The New Normal," found that what most people think of as the typical undergraduate student — attending college right out of high school and financially dependent upon parents — hasn't actually described a majority of the college-going population for almost three decades.

pramMost students work, and around 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week. And of those students who work, about 19 percent have children.  These students are busy and often highly motivated to succeed.

At Pacific's Center for Professional and Continuing Education (CPCE), working students who already have 60 transferable credits can join a cohort of other students to take classes two nights a week for 20 months to complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree in organizational behavior. For Flores, this wasn't the least expensive choice, but she felt that it was the best one.

"I looked at a less-expensive online degree program, but Pacific had always been my dream school," she said. "I couldn't believe I had found a program here that worked with my schedule."

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Reyes also looked at online options and decided that the in-person experience was worth it.

"I wanted to walk the halls of Pacific and to have the connection with my professors and my fellow students, and you just don't get that online."

Flores, 25, and Reyes, 32, had several years between high school and the completion of their bachelor's degrees, and in this way they have plenty of company. The Georgetown report found that one-third of working college students are 30 or older.

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Earning a bachelor's degree had long been a dream for Reyes. He had taken classes at a technical college after high school, but his immigration status meant that he had to pay tuition as an international student. Reyes worked his way up as a manager at AT&T and then moved into a banking career at Wells Fargo. When Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was implemented in 2012, completing a college degree became more affordable for Reyes, who came to the U.S. when he was three. 

"I could now apply as a California resident, which made a huge difference in the cost of tuition," he said.

Pacific offers another degree opportunity for working adults through the EdPro2 program. Started in 2006 in the Gladys L. Benerd School of Education, EdPro2 is a 15-month accelerated program geared toward paraprofessionals working in education who want to earn a bachelor's degree in liberal studies and move into teaching. The program has had a whopping 90 percent completion rate, according to Marilyn Draheim, a professor of education who operates the program.

"The EdPro2 degree completion program has allowed many working adults to fulfill a goal that most had given up on years ago as long out of reach — a bachelor's degree. The accelerated format, accompanied by financial aid, has changed the life trajectory of each of the graduates," said Michael Elium, an associate professor in the School of Education.

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It adds up — by 2030

1.1 million
California will be 1.1 million college graduates short of economic demand

38%
38 percent of all jobs will depend on workers with a bachelor's degree, yet only 33 percent of all workers will have one

70%
In 2005, college-degree holders earned just above 60 percent more than similar workers who held only a high school diploma; by 2013, they earned about 70 percent more

Source: the Public Policy Institute of California report "Will California Run Out of College Graduates?", October 2015.

Expanding the 
potential to
learn and earn

The biggest predictor of whether or not a child will go to college is if their parents are college graduates, said Vernon Smith, Pacific's vice provost for distributed learning, who runs CPCE. 

And that has broad implications, as the benefits of education extend beyond just the student who is earning the degree, Smith said.

"The most significant way to move the needle for an individual, his or her child and for society is education," Smith said.  

To help make higher education more accessible, CPCE's degree completion program will be expanding to Pacific's Sacramento Campus in 2017. 

New and expanded graduate and professional programs in San Francisco and Sacramento are another way Pacific is serving working adults in Northern California. Through evening and weekend classes as well as online and hybrid options, new programs in education (EdD) and business (MBA) and a master's in analytics are designed for students who are seeking to expand or build upon their existing skill set. Programs in public policy and public administration and a master's in education will soon be part of Pacific's offerings for working adults.

Combining work, school and home lives 

Reyes said he gets asked sometimes how he can possibly go to school while also working 50 hours a week, and he said that he actually spends more time now with his family than he ever has. 

"I've learned a lot about myself and about time management through this degree," he said. "I've cut out all distractions, like TV and social media, and I've really focused on what's important: family first, then work and my education, and church events."

Working while going to college creates challenges, but it can also create opportunities. Reyes was promoted to a vice president position not long after he started working on his degree at Pacific, and he said his manager tied the promotion directly to his degree work. 

"At Wells Fargo you're supposed to have a bachelor's degree to get the vice president title, but my boss said he could already see such a difference in the way I was communicating and a new confidence in the way I carried myself."

briefcaseFlores also received a promotion after starting her degree work. As an office manager for Aspire Public Schools, Flores leads a staff of seven and runs what she calls the "behind the scenes" at a busy elementary school. 

"I interact with parents, students and teachers on a daily basis, and good communication skills are critical," said Flores. "From my very first class at Pacific, Professional Communication, I've learned about systems and strategies that make workplaces run more effectively, and I've shared these with my staff."

For many of the students in the CPCE program, including Reyes and Flores, the bachelor's degree they will receive in May won't be the end of their higher education. Flores plans to apply for law school at Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, and Reyes is considering the master's program in communications, also from Pacific.

"My professors saw something in me that I had not seen in myself," said Reyes. "They have become mentors to me and have encouraged me to go on to graduate school."

And the daughters that both Flores and Reyes want to impress with the importance of college?  They are definitely proud of what their parents are doing on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

"My daughter says, 'That's Mommy's school!' when she sees the mural of Burns Tower on the wall at Trader Joe's," said Flores. 

And Reyes's daughter has already asked, "Can I go to your school when I grow up, Daddy?"