God ordained work from the beginning. He Himself worked to create the world and then He rested on the seventh day. We follow in God’s footsteps by working. We have the ability to be creative, to make plans, to organize and improve the world. Yet modernity would have us view work as a burden, rather than a noble gift that allows us to live in the image of God.
The Work College model incorporates work into the life of college students as a part of their education. By participating in community-building and service based on interests and skill sets, students learn far more than they could in a classroom alone. When students hold jobs outside of their academic institution, bosses and professors alike offer little sympathy for the conflicts of time that may arise.
But this work-learning-service program is integrated into each student’s weekly life, and professors factor it in. It never takes time away from classes and is often related to their academic area of study. Instead of being torn by the competing demands of education and working, students engage in a unified lifestyle that prepares them to face the challenges of the working world.
Furthermore, the money students earn is not dispensed as a paycheck but rather counts directly toward their tuition cost. This allows Work College students to graduate with significantly less debt than the average graduate of a four-year institution.
More than debt reduction or job preparation, this model of education is special because of the way it complements and enhances Franciscan spirituality. Here are three of the core Franciscan values that Work College students can learn to understand and live out.
The Work College program requires all residential students to participate so the students work with one another inside and outside of the classroom. This builds solidarity and provides a natural atmosphere for deep friendship to take root. It also serves the surrounding area, since many Work College jobs are oriented toward meeting the needs of the local community.
This is a unique opportunity in a time and a culture that idolizes individualism. Accompanying this rise of self-dom, there also is a rise in loneliness; more people report having no one to talk to about their problems and few people know their neighbors anymore. Rather than put in the effort to build and maintain healthy relationships, we choose the easier path of checking out. Americans spend more leisure time watching TV than all other leisure activities combined (including socializing).
The Work College model is one of complete intentionality. Students foster fellowship with one another, with the employees of the college, and with the citizens in their cities and counties. They eat, sleep, work and play in the larger context of community and it benefits everyone.
2. Compassion and Peacemaking
Living, learning and working closely does not happen easily. In fact, it often breeds tension, especially when two people with differing habits, personalities and worldviews are asked to collaborate. Yet true peace does not exist where conflict is avoided, but where it is resolved.
The Work College model teaches students to get along with people with very different attitudes and opinions. This may take gentle confrontation. It may require having the same conversations over and over again. It will certainly involve humble listening and taking the other person seriously. Working through differences is hard work. Ask any married person or anyone with siblings. But the beauty of living in harmony with another human is priceless.
Having to work alongside those you don’t agree with teaches patience. Having to serve them teaches compassion. And both virtues will aid anyone throughout their lives.
3. Reverence for Creation
"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." This quote from conservationist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) adequately sums up how this third core value intertwines with the first two.
The created world is one thing we all have in common. When we remember that it’s our shared home and one that can provide all necessities for everyone alive, how can we have any response other than reverence? However, Creation can only provide food, clean water and trees for building if we live in harmony with it.
Work College students are often found laboring outside in nature. Whether landscaping the grounds of their college or working on a farm in the community, reverence for the environment is a valuable part of this program.
Why not integrate?
Each of these values can stand alone as an asset in college and out in the working world. What employer doesn’t want to hire someone who cares about improving the welfare of her local community, who initiates strong relationships with his co-workers based on respect and compassion, who has an appropriate sense of wonder about the dignity of the earth?
Work College students graduate with all of the above. But most importantly, they see how we all come together to form one integrated, thriving masterpiece. And, they teach others to see it, too.
Need more information about the Work College Model? Download our guide.