Colorado State University (CSU) Pueblo leveraged its federal and grant funds to financially support career placement for students from underserved communities. The funds allowed them to participate in placements essential to graduating with degrees in social work, education, and nursing and boost the diversity of these sectors of the workforce. For years, faculty and staff in these majors have observed many students opt to leave school or transition to a different major purely because of their inability to leave their jobs for the required nursing clinical, student teaching, or social work placements. In many cases, students making these choices were members of these key underrepresented groups: first generation, communities of color, or those from lower socio-economic status. The financial needs of their families were often placed in direct conflict with their coursework.
College affordability is a major issue for the university in recruiting and retaining students, particularly for those from underserved groups. Affordability becomes even more complicated when considering the impacts that financial concerns have on students’ decisions on whether to enter specific programs, continue in those programs, and eventually move into key careers. Currently, 90% of CSU Pueblo’s student population depend on some sort of financial aid, according to the university’s website. Further, minority student enrollment makes up 48% of the population, of which nearly 40% is Hispanic, earning the university the Hispanic-Serving Institution federal designation. Removing the financial barrier was of paramount importance to CSU Pueblo, where more than half of the student population works while enrolled, many with multiple jobs.
In response, CSU Pueblo decided to use its federal Experimental Site work-study funds to solve the unique placement issues for teacher education and social work students, while grant funds obtained by the institution supported all nursing students. This academic year, the university was able to pay all students in these three programs for the time they worked during their required work placements. CSU Pueblo coupled the expanded aid with a broader campus effort to infuse career preparation and hands-on experiences throughout the college experience. This work-study approach supports the university’s mission of being a people’s university by 2028, a goal of the university’s Vision 2028 strategic plan.
This endeavor required significant collaboration—on and off campus. CSU Pueblo’s Student Financial Services and its three academic programs collected all information needed to award funds to the eligible students. The Advancement staff obtained additional grant funds to support nursing students, which allowed the inclusion of social work in this launch, instead of requiring a delay. And the placement sites provided the information and support necessary for the proper tracking of the students’ success and the reporting of their work hours.
CSU Pueblo piloted this effort with a small number of student teacher placements in spring 2021, then expanded it for the 2021–2022 academic year, as previously described. The progress of this project in its first full year was measured by its ability to meet the needs of all students enrolled in these work experiences and to expend all the available federal funds. This first-year success is being used as a baseline for determining the future success of expanding the project. In addition, once students receiving these funds have come to the end of their programs, CSU Pueblo will collect data related to persistence, graduation, and final career placement for recipients, which will be measured against previous cohorts.
CSU Pueblo sought to expend all the federally provided funds so it could demonstrate the effectiveness of this effort and potentially receive additional funds in the next cycle. During the 2021–2022 academic year, the university did indeed award to students all the federal funds made available to the university for this program. Because of the students’ financial need, CSU Pueblo was allowed to redirect other federal work-study funds to ensure all eligible students from the social work, education, and nursing majors were included. In total, $68,500 of work-study funds supported 40 students—22 in the spring semester and 18 in the fall—in their academically required placements. CSU Pueblo also was notified that its federal allocation for the final year of this program was significantly increased, which will allow the university to serve additional students in the 2022–2023 academic year.
The program’s most immediate impact has been the enhanced retention of students and their completion of some of the key programs because these financial barriers no longer impeded their success. The university’s creative approach of using work-study funds and grants has the potential to increase the diversity of graduates entering careers within education, nursing, and social work in the long term.
Colleges and universities should establish clear processes for collecting all of the data needed to manage the student awards, hours tracking, etc., and for coordinating with the placement sites. In CSU Pueblo’s case, intensive coordination was necessary between Student Financial Services and the academic programs involved.
“I can’t say enough how much this work-study position positively affected my semester. I was not stressed about money and was able to focus on my student teaching. … I am incredibly grateful I was one of the students who benefited positively from this work-study position. I hope future student teachers can have the same opportunity I had.”
Ilura Love, student