Learn and Earn program expands to main campus

Elisabeth Moore

Beginning at WKU’s Glasgow campus, Learn and Earn was created as a scholarship program to pair participating students with business partners in need of entry-level employees. Now, the Learn and Earn program has reached out to WKU’s main campus to help both students and businesses in Bowling Green.

To be hired, students must sign an agreement with the participating business partner, which will allow the student to receive an hourly wage and a scholarship from the employer at the end of the semester as long as he or she is successful in the job and can meet the GPA requirements.

The scholarship can range from 25 percent to 50 percent of the student’s tuition according to Leslie Witty, project manager for WKU Learn and Earn. Along with the scholarship, students will be paid hourly wages that range from $8 to $13.25 per hour.

“As long as the students stay in good standing with the employer and complete the requirements of the program, they are guaranteed a semester [of work],” Witty said. “However, most employers prefer if the students can continue for additional semesters.”

Christina Dawson, founder of Southern Kentucky Jobs, has been partnered with the Learn and Earn program since July of 2016. According to its website, SOKY Jobs is an “advocate for sustainable economic growth in Southern Kentucky.” Through the partnership, Dawson introduced both McDonalds and the Kentucky Grand Hotel and Spa to the Learn and Earn program.

The program is meant to help students, but it is also valuable to employers, Dawson said. Through the scholarship, employers are investing into the student’s future as well as creating a positive effect on employee performance and the student themselves.

“The student must fulfill their obligations to their employer for the entire semester to receive the scholarship,” Dawson said. “This is valuable insurance to the employer and decreases turnover. Due to the financial burden being lifted from the student, this increases their likelihood to complete their education and they will graduate with little to no student loan debt.”

Terri Davis, a non-conventional student majoring in social work at WKU Glasgow, now works at Akebono in Glasgow 24 hours a week under the contract signed between Akebono and WKU.

“It’s a good balance for me considering I’m a college student, mom, wife and now a part-time worker,” Davis said. “I pretty much set my own hours. As long as I get my 24 hours done by Friday, I’m in good shape.”

To attain a job through the Learn and Earn program, students must apply to make sure they are eligible, attend orientation and successfully complete soft-skills training through the program, Witty said. Learn and Earn then checks in regularly and provides coaching and support through the Student Development Coordinator.

For a student to be chosen for any position, a variety of factors are considered, such as GPA, previous work history and how students perform on soft-skill assessments. These factors then determine a viable set of candidates for any position which will be sent to be interviewed by the employer, who makes the final hiring decision, Witty said.

“We want students to complete the semester successfully, so we provide as much support as we can for them,” Witty said. “It should be noted, however, that as the majority of these positions are entry-level, for most positions, majors are not as significant as candidate dependability and soft-skill readiness. We want to make this program available to as many students as possible.”

Although the program began at WKU Glasgow, Learn and Earn now helps students on Bowling Green’s campus as well. SOKY Jobs actively works to help recruit employers who post on the SOKY Job website to partner with the Learn and Earn program, Dawson said.

“Students who graduate with work history on their resume are much more likely to obtain employment,” Dawson said. “Even with a degree, it’s very difficult for anyone to land a good job with no work experience.”

Reanna Poynter, a freshman nursing student, used Learn and Earn to find a job at Sitel in Glasgow. Poynter said Sitel is very considerate of her school and social schedule.

“They work me on my days I don’t have class and they also ensure that I have time for family, friends and homework,” Poynter said. “I do plan on keeping this job through my college career. If something ever did happen and I didn’t stay at Sitel, I would for sure stick with the Learn and Earn program.”

Learn and Earn is currently partnered with seven businesses both in Bowling Green and in Glasgow, though more are being accessed through SOKY Jobs and local businesses near each campus.

Witty said the main problem Learn and Earn deals with is showing employers that even though they are providing scholarships to students, they wind up saving money through this program by getting high-quality student employees and cutting down on employee turnover. Additionally, training and advertising expenses are lowered because all of the student positions are part-time only.

“It truly is one of those rare win-win scenarios,” Witty said. “Learn and Earn is an excellent way to bring industry and education together, thus helping meet regional workforce demands and economic development needs in the process.”

Reporter Elisabeth Moore can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emoore938.