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Success Strategies for Working Students: The 'Learn and Earn' Baker's Dozen

Success Strategies for Working Students: The 'Learn and Earn' Baker's Dozen

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Published by Mark David Milliron
What follows is a chapter in the Kronos Workforce Institute's 2011 book "Elements of Successful Organizations," which will soon be available on Amazon. While most of the chapters provide information for people managers, this one is written to speak directly to working students trying to best navigate their paths through higher education. More on the book and the Workforce Institute at www.workforceinstitute.org.
What follows is a chapter in the Kronos Workforce Institute's 2011 book "Elements of Successful Organizations," which will soon be available on Amazon. While most of the chapters provide information for people managers, this one is written to speak directly to working students trying to best navigate their paths through higher education. More on the book and the Workforce Institute at www.workforceinstitute.org.

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Published by: Mark David Milliron on Nov 05, 2011
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07/30/2012

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 Dr. Mark David Milliron is Deputy Director, Higher Education at theBill & Melinda Gates Foundation. An award­winning leader, author,speaker, and consultant, Dr. Milliron is well known or exploring leader­ship development, uture trends, learning strategies, and the human sideo technology change. He ounded and served as CEO or the private con­sulting and service group, Catalyze Learning International (CLI), andserved as an Endowed Fellow, Senior Lecturer, and Director o the Nation­al Institute o Staf and Organizational Development in the College o  Education at The University o Texas at Austin. He also was Vice Presi­dent or Education and Medical Practice with SAS, the world’s largest  private sotware company; and President and CEO o the League or Innovation in the Community College. Dr. Milliron holds a PhD romUniversity o Texas at Austin, and an MA and BS in OrganizationalCommunication rom Arizona State University. He can be reached at mark@catalyzelearning.com.
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you’re striving or better lie by pursuing a postsecondary certication,diploma, or degree and have to work while doing so, don’t dismay. Youare the “new normal” student in higher education. Traditional students— 18–22 years o age, living on campus, going to school ull-time—are stillaround, o course. But they represent less than a quarter o today’s highereducation students. As a result, the days o the ivory tower and elite liberalarts universities dominating the American higher education conversationare in the past. Students ‘learning while earning’ are speaking up; and awide variety o national, state, and educational leaders are listening andresponding. It’s about time.There is much work to do to help our government agencies, state eco-nomic development systems, postsecondary institutions, and employers better target their eorts to day-to-day, working-student realities. Thank-ully, these conversations are underway. Indeed, organizations such asCorporate Voices or Working Families are catalyzing these conversationsnationwide. However, these dialogs are not the ocus o this piece.The goal here is to speak directly to strivers on ‘learn and earn’ path-ways and share key success strategies or their journey. I you’re a ‘learn andearn’ striver—or want to learn how to better support those who are—readon. Each o the baker’s dozen success strategies that ollow are based onresearch, practice, and the experiences o millions o people taking on thechallenge o learning and earning. More important, these strategies are
Success Strategies for Working Students:
The ‘Learn and Earn’ Baker’s Dozen
Mark David Milliron, Deputy Director,Higher Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
 
 
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“I’m not that smart”—tend to have problems. When evidence contradictstheir xed perception o themselves, they oten engage in sel sabotage orsel handicapping. Subtly they create ready-made excuses or ailure. Call yoursel early and oten on this behavior i you see even the smallest sign o it seeping into your sel-talk or daily walk.On the other hand, learners who see themselves as growing or develop-ing—“I can learn this i I work hard”—are much better. They see setbacksas learning opportunities and triggers to turn on more eort, not signals o sel worth and excuses to quit. These hardy olks have neuroscience ontheir side. Research backs up the notion that your brain’s capacity growsand expands with your eort. Put simply, we were literally born to learn.I you’re serious about this journey, buckle up. You’ll nd riends andallies to be sure. But in your working, learning, and living worlds you’llcome upon stumbling blocks, sticking points, and seriously challenging people who don’t have your best interest at heart. You need to bring a senseo toughness to the mix i you’re going to succeed. It won’t be easy. But nish-ing something hard is a powerul change experience and habit ormer.
get Smart about your empLoyer
Not all employers are created equal. Some take the development o theiremployees seriously and oer internal training and external tuition support.Others are good about providing fex time or working learners and ap-prenticeships to give them needed experience. There are some, however,that could care less about your personal development. In act, you mighthave experienced rsthand employers that are openly dismissive o yourdreams and eager to reinorce the “you’re not good enough” mindset. Runrom this last group, i you have the choice.I you’re lucky enough to already work or or have the opportunity tochoose an employer that has robust proessional development opportuni-ties, try hard to maximize them. Look or training opportunities that oerhigher-education credit toward credentials i you can. Many have strong partnerships with surrounding community colleges or universities thatmight be o interest as well. Also, take the time to understand and leveragethe tuition reimbursements your employer oers. And, most important,
tell 
especially targeted to not only help you advance on the journey, but toachieve meaningul postsecondary credentials along the way. It’s clear:quality credentials open up pathways to possibility like never beore. Let’sget started.
get on purpoSe
The greatest git and strongest lit you can give yoursel on your journey isclarity. You have to get clear about “why” you’re embarking on this journey.You’ll soon nd that coursework can be conusing, teachers unreasonable,employers infexible, and lie at home uncooperative. It’s times like thesewhen an anchored “why” will save you.What’s your “why?” Is it to break the cycle o poverty in your amily? Isit to be an example to your children? Is it to provide a better lie or youramily? Is it to qualiy or a promotion or get on the path toward a goal you’ve dreamed o or years but deerred to raise kids or support an ex-tended amily? Perhaps it is to just change the trajectory o your lie. Re-gardless o what it is, it needs to be authentic, compelling, and worth pull-ing yoursel out o bed when you’re absolutely exhausted.For some o you, the “why” is clear and catalytic. For others, there iswork to be done to get beyond nebulous notions o “because it seems likethe right thing to do” or “my amily thinks I should.” A strong, groundedpurpose that you understand and own is radically important to both startwell and nish strongly. Your choice o credential pathways, educationalprovider, employer and support systems all anchor on your why. Take thetime to get as clear as possible about your purpose.
get tenaCIouS
 As said, the ‘learning and earning’ journey is not easy. The students thatsurvive and thrive share some common characteristics. One o the mostprominent is tenacity. They are tough. They take personal responsibility orthe journey and don’t blame others or success or ailure. It’s on them. Theydon’t “get” a grade; they “earn” a grade.This tenacity is rmly grounded in a growth mindset. Research showsthat learners who see their intellectual capacity as xed—“I’m smart” or
 
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 milliSccss Sis  Wki Ss
 you to maximize your student loan availability. There are too many othergood options available. Take the time to be choosey and strategic—do not jump at the rst advertisement or recruitment call.Second, do not assume that online learning is easier or right or you.Many students quickly nd that neither is the case. Quality online learning is challenging and requires a level o technical savvy and sel regulation thatis dicult or some working learners. Many have ound that starting and/or staying with blended programs is the answer. It aords the best o onlinelearning’s fexibility with ace-to-ace’s personal touch.Finally, beware the rigid or “elite” college or university that demon-strates little care or concern or working students. These institutions arenot hard to spot. Usually their disdain or your lie situation is palpable andtheir student mix is clearly not a t. With the array o learning optionsavailable or today’s working learner, it’s best not to try to orce a t withthese olks, no matter how great their name may sound on a diploma.
get the moSt for your money
Believe it or not, millions o students leave money or education on the table.There is what’s called a “Pell Gap” at many community colleges and univer-sities—the dierence between the percentage o students eligible or PellGrants and those that access them. Also, many students are unaware o work-orce training grants available through local labor departments or commu-nity centers. Still others ail to access tuition reimbursement or other ‘learnand earn’ programs oered by their employers.Don’t stop looking or support. Make sure you ll out the FAFSA. Thisederal aid orm is the coin o the realm in education nancial support. Itcan be painul to try to complete on your own, however; so don’t be shyabout asking or assistance either rom a local college’s student supportservices or a community workorce development center. Also, be sure to ask about scholarship opportunities and any and all other support oerings— including work study or apprenticeship programs.Do, however, be very careul about student loans. Student loan debtstays with you orever. It’s one o the ew debts that you can’t declare bank-ruptcy against. Take on no or as little student loan debt as possible, and only
 your employer o your interest 
in urthering your development by obtaining higher education credentials. Smart employers know that i you’re working toward a certication or degree, even i it doesn’t benet them directly, you’re likely to stay longer and be a more conscientious employee. Otherswill be impressed by your aspiration and may want to seed your develop-ment to launch you on a career path that benets both you and them.I you’re trapped in a relationship with an employer that is not support-ive, however, it’s time to bring your tenacity to bear. I hate to be this direct, but it’s important. You have to be clear that you’re using this job to give youthe opportunity to be a learner, a striver on a dierent path. Identiy your-sel as a student rst and employee second. Keep working hard at your job; but leverage all the options you can—on ground, online, blended learning opportunities through training providers, community colleges, or universi-ties—to keep moving orward on the learning journey toward a credential.You’ll soon nd that good colleges (see the next section) help working stu-dents work around dicult employers.
get Smart about your CoLLege
Some training providers, community colleges, and universities are particu-larly good about understanding the challenges o working students. Theyhave fexible learning options: online, blended, and weekend oerings. Someeven oer classes starting at midnight! Strong local colleges will have part-nerships with many o their region’s major employers that have signicant benets or working learners. Best o all, more colleges are giving credit ordocumented training activities or providing access to competency testing toaccumulate credit or knowledge and skills you already possess. There is noneed to sit through classes on topics you already know inside and out. Tryhard to nd these colleges. Sometimes they’re right next door. Other timesthey are online and can reach you anywhere, any time. A ew key considerations, however: First, make sure any institution youattend is accredited by a reputable regional or national accreditor and thatthe credential you’re working toward—and you absolutely should be work-ing toward a credential (more on that later)—builds toward uture learning pathways. Beware unaccredited institutions or those trying hard to convince

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