When your students are your workforce, what happens in a pandemic?


Edgar Ortiz weaving

Edgar Ortiz, a senior studying chemistry, works a loom at the weaving studio at Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky, Nov. 6, 2020. The college sells artisanal goods to the public, such as the placemat Mr. Ortiz is weaving, as well as other home goods made by students.
(Photo: Nick Roll/The Christian Science Monitor)

Originally posted by The Christian Science Monitor
By: Nick Roll, staff writer

Edgar Ortiz pauses as he operates a wooden loom several times larger than he is, reflecting on his college job as he fashions a place mat.

“Who comes to college and learns how to weave?” he asks.

For Mr. Ortiz, a chemistry major set to graduate this spring, weaving place mats wasn’t how he originally imagined he’d be spending his time outside the lab. But Mr. Ortiz attends Berea College, where every student is assigned a job on campus, ranging from farm work to artisanal craft skills – such as weaving or woodworking – to more routine posts such as cleaning or being a teaching assistant.

This past semester, though, Mr. Ortiz was missing more than half of his co-workers. Social distancing rules had limited the capacity of the weaving studio and the number of students able to work there. On a recent afternoon, he was joined by only one other student employee and their supervisor, who is overseeing seven students this year instead of her usual 16 to 18.

Students at work colleges like Berea – there are eight others in the United States – are employed by the school in an effort to keep costs down for both students and the administration. Working through the pandemic has meant adjusting to new health standards and working in smaller, socially distanced crews – if students are able to work at all. And for the colleges, disruptions to the student work programs lead directly to disruptions to day-to-day operations.

“We had to shift to a work program where we were covering the essential jobs first,” says Berea President Lyle Roelofs. This was especially true in agriculture, where the college’s crops and livestock needed diligent care, but there were fewer students on campus to provide it. “It was sort of amusing,” he says, recalling one student who was originally planning on working in the fundraising office but wound up “being asked to explore the dignity of labor by feeding the hogs.”

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Smithsonian Features 100 Years of Berea College Brooms

Student braiding a broom

The Berea College Broomcraft Program—which marks its centennial anniversary this year—is highlighted in an online feature article in the Smithsonian Magazine

While Berea is a liberal arts college—not a craft or art school—it is home to the country’s longest continuously operating broomcraft workshop and carries on an American craft tradition that’s rarely practiced today. In the article, Chris Robbins, director of Berea College’s broomcraft program, estimates there likely are less than 200 people worldwide who make brooms by hand for a living. Yet brooms seem to be having a renaissance, he said, perhaps due to a market trend for handmade items or to the popularity of the Harry Potter book series (Berea has a “rocket broom” in its product line). More than 60 brooms were ordered on the morning the article appeared.

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As ‘Working College,’ Berea Provides High Quality at No Cost

Originally posted by Kentucky Ag Connection

Student loan debt in the United States is no joke. The total amount of debt has tripled since 2005 with college graduates and former students owing a jaw-dropping $1.6 trillion. Student loan debt is only surpassed by mortgage debt in the U.S.

The debt burden today’s college grads are carrying is actually changing the way millennials live their lives when compared to previous generations. Some have delayed marriage, put off buying a home, and even foregone having children due to their student loan burdens.

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NPR Features Berea College’s No Tuition Policy and Labor Program

Draper Building

Berea College was the focus of a feature story by Jeff Tyler recently broadcast by National Public Radio. Tyler, a journalist for NPR’s Marketplace and All Things Considered, recently visited Berea’s campus to prepare the story that focused on how Berea College and Alice Lloyd College provide no-tuition enrollment for college students and offer examples other American colleges might follow.

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Nerdwallet Spotlights Berea’s Student Work Program

Student carrying a plant at the Ecovillage

Nerdwallet, a personal financial services blogsite that provides information on banking, credit cards, college loans, mortgage loans, insurance, and stock trading, highlighted Berea College in a recent article. The feature focused on Berea’s Student Labor Program and two other schools that are members of the Work Colleges Consortium that also require students to work.

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Sylvia E.M. Asante Named Dean of Labor at Berea College

Sylvia E.M. AsanteBerea College named Sylvia E.M. Asante as Dean of Labor, effective Monday, October, 1, 2017.

Asante most recently served as Associate Director of Career Development at Gettysburg College, where her work included career and professional development services for students and managing Student On-Campus Employment Services. Her educational background includes a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, a master of science degree in Counseling/College Student Personnel from Shippensburg University, and a bachelor of arts degree in Sociology from Gettysburg College. Continue reading Sylvia E.M. Asante Named Dean of Labor at Berea College

President Roelofs Puts Benefits of Berea’s Labor Program in National Spotlight

Lyle Roelofs, President of Berea College

Lyle Roelofs, President of Berea College

Roelofs is the featured author of an article published by Inside Higher Ed today. He describes Berea College’s distinctive Labor Program and cites how other colleges and universities might want to consider establishing a work program to increase student access and affordability.

Read the entire article online at Inside Higher Education.

The Berea College Labor Program

Students gain valuable work experience serving the College and the community.

Student Set Building

Labor is embedded in the history of Berea College. From its earliest days, Berea has enabled students to contribute to the cost of their education while gaining valuable work experience serving the college and surrounding communities. Historically, Berea’s Labor Program also allowed the College to operate in a self-sustaining manner, with students growing their own food and building their own living and learning facilities. As society has changed, the nature of the work has changed, but the underlying principles of the program have remained constant through the years. Continue reading The Berea College Labor Program

Berea’s Student-made Brooms Featured in Baltimore Sun

Berea College’s popular Streamliner brooms were featured in a recent article titled “Better Brooms Make a Clean Sweep” published by the Baltimore Sun. Berea’s brooms top the list of products highlighted in the article. Continue reading Berea’s Student-made Brooms Featured in Baltimore Sun

Berea College One of Top Five Schools with Lowest Debt for Students

Berea College continues to draw national attention for helping students have little or no debt upon graduation. In an article by Nerdwallet Berea ranked #4 on the list of affordable schools and Berea’s Labor Program was featured as a major factor in making education affordable for students. Theresa Lowder, Berea’s director of financial aid services, and a Berea alumna herself, was quoted in the article.

Two from Berea College Get Top Honors in Kentucky

A Berea College student and a supervising employee have been recognized by the Midwest Association of Student Employment Administrators (MASEA). Kelly Grenier, a graduating senior (May 2015), has been selected as the recipient of the “MASEA Student Employee of the Year for the State of Kentucky.” Larky Crawford, of the Berea College art department, is the recipient of the first ever “MASEA Student Employment Supervisor of the Year for the State of Kentucky.” Continue reading Two from Berea College Get Top Honors in Kentucky