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Berea’s Labor Program and Financial Aid Model and Response to NLRB Petition

Berea’s Labor Program and Financial Aid Model and Response to NLRB Petition

Information on Berea’s federally regulated Work College model and updates on the NLRB process

At Berea College, learning happens in many ways: in academic pursuits, labor experiences, service opportunities and extracurricular activities. Students develop a diverse skill set through on-campus work alongside their academic endeavors, fostering self-advocacy and engagement with the world. Fundamentally, Berea students are students, not employees, and Berea is committed to supporting positive work environments and leadership opportunities to enhance each student’s educational journey. We define ourselves as a community that works together.

In addition, Berea is committed to making college affordable.  Berea is #1 in the nation in economic access, serving 94% Pell-eligible students. We are also #1 in the nation for graduating students with the lowest debt. We help students who can't afford college graduate debt free. How do we do this? We do this by meeting 100% of students’ financial need through a unique "no tuition + no/low loan" financial aid package, which includes our Work College Program funding. We offer financial freedom to those who deserve it the most.

In 1892, we invented our work program and stopped charging tuition. We are now a federally recognized Work College, meaning that today’s students engage in an educational “work-learning-service” program defined and regulated by the Department of Education.  Students typically work 10 hours on campus in a wide variety of unique positions, including service learning and classroom support positions. In return, they receive financial aid in the form of a Work Scholarship that pays approximately $34/hour. This funding, plus support from other grants and donors, provides free tuition and subsidized housing, food, fees, and health, dental and counselling care. Berea also recognizes students’ work with tax-free monthly scholarship payments.

A group of students has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) to represent all Berea College’s undergraduate students as a union in collective bargaining with the College. As we have communicated, Berea does not believe this is appropriate, legally permissible, or in the best interests of our current students or future generations of Bereans. While the values that underpin today’s labor movement in some ways align with our values as a college, our unique Work College and financial aid model is structurally incompatible with a unionized environment.

Although the NLRB puts limits on what the College can communicate throughout this process, we are committed to being as candid and informative as possible. We strongly encourage each student to familiarize themselves with unionization and its potential implications for students and Berea College. This webpage serves as a resource for students and other members of the college community who may have questions about the NLRB process and how it could impact them.

Foundation-Setting Questions

What is happening?

On March 16, 2024, the College received notice that the Communications Workers of America (CWA) had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking recognition as a collective bargaining (union) representative for all undergraduate Berea College students. 

The regional office of the NLRB originally scheduled a hearing on this issue for March 27, but this hearing has been delayed to April 17, 2024. The NLRB determines the next steps in the process.

What is the College’s position? 

Unionization of most or all of our students would be structurally incompatible with our unique Work College model. Fundamentally, Berea students are here as students, not employees. Unionization would likely set up an unprecedented conflict between the NLRB and Department of Education (DOE), under which Berea operates as a Work College. For example, the NLRB could define Berea students as employees who receive wages, while the DOE defines Berea students as students who receive tax-free federal financial aid grants and scholarships that, along with Berea-funded scholarships, cover their educational expenses.  

How does this impact my Berea College funding and financial aid funding?

We do not know the impact of unionization on our financial aid structure, status as a Work College, or Work College funding. Berea College is a federally funded Work College, meaning that students must work in order to receive financial aid scholarship funds. Federal financial aid is determined by the Department of Education via the FAFSA process, and we do not believe students can negotiate their financial aid package.

At a Work College, students work to help “pay for college as they go,” rather than take out student loans. At all Work Colleges, this unique form of financial aid is credited against tuition costs on a student’s term bill.  In addition, unlike any other Work College, Berea disburses some of this financial aid directly to the student in the form of untaxed monthly pay. Berea students receive financial aid, not taxable wages. This scholarship funding and the Work College model must follow clear regulations set by the Department of Education. Again, we define our students as students who receive tax-free financial aid, not employees who receive wages.   

At Berea, Work College funding is combined with other grants and generous donor funding to pay for free tuition and subsidized housing, food, fees, and health, dental and counselling care. 

How does this impact my Berea College work positions?

We do not know the impact of unionization on the structuring of our work positions. Berea College uses financial aid funding and our own donor funding to provide students with many forms of learning that would typically not be defined as “work.” For example, we fund education-oriented student positions focused on community engagement/service, artistic craft, and classroom-related roles. Many of our positions are unique, one-of-a-kind positions adjusted annually to meet student needs: in spring 2024, we have over 768 active, differently-defined positions overseen by 273 faculty and staff supervisors. In addition, our work supervisors play an educator and mentor role, and we are not sure how that relationship would be redefined. Our positions follow the educational Work College “work-learning-service” model, overseen by the Department of Education.

Current students can work individually with their supervisors to shift their hours and work deliverables. Current students can change work positions. We do not know how that flexibility would be preserved in a union environment.

News and Updates

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about unions and the NLRB process.

Quick Fact Sheets

Photo of Berea College SIgn
Quick Facts: Students' Work and Financial Aid

Quick facts document covering questions related to the Work College structure, students’ work, and a break-down of financial aid.

Berea College campus aerial fall
Quick Facts: Work Funding, Positions and Opportunities

Quick facts document covering questions related to funding, positions, and opportunities.

Ariel photo of the Berea College Draper building and the surrounding mountains
Quick Facts: Work Satisfaction, Student Voice, and Safety

Quick facts document covering questions related to work satisfaction, student voice, and safety.

    Labor Program and Financial Aid: Deep Dive

    The Work College Difference

    What does it mean for Berea to be a Work College (philosophy and funding), how Berea differs from other Work Colleges, and the financial aid funding overview.