WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (KAIT) - Williams Baptist University announced Monday morning that it would soon give students a chance to work their way through college, with the potential to graduate debt-free.
The initiative, known as Williams Works, is a program that will allow students to work part-time jobs to have their tuition and fees completely covered.
“WBU understands the financial strain students and their families are facing. It is a hurdle that makes it very difficult for many to even attend college, so we are providing a way for students to get past that financial hurdle and receive an outstanding, Christ-centered education at Williams,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU.
Students who are selected for Williams Works will agree to work 16 hours per week, and they will work every week of the fall and spring semesters. Those who complete their assigned hours will have their cost of education covered, which includes tuition and fees.
Some students will also be allowed to work in the summer months to cover their room and board expenses for the following year.
One of the projects in Williams Works is Eagle Farms. Eagle Farms, a fruit and vegetable farm where students will plant, cultivate and harvest the crops, as well as market the produce. The farm will be located at the northwest corner of the WBU campus, on land that is currently undeveloped.
“This initiative will involve a farmers market and several other outlets for our produce, and we also plan to develop our own line of WBU-branded products. With over 100 pecan trees already on our campus, we plan to sell Eagle Farms pecans as well as other specialty farm products,” Norman said.
Eagle Farms will begin by growing fruits and vegetables in the early stages, but future plans call for the addition of agri-tourism elements, such as a fall festival, and he said the farm will expand into other endeavors as needed to provide jobs for students.
WBU will also work with community partners to provide jobs, including industries nearby in the Walnut Ridge Industrial Park.
Custom Pak, the nearest industry to the Williams campus, has agreed to hire 25 students through Williams Works when the program launches in the fall of 2020. The company has expressed interest in expanding that number in future years.
“To be clear, Williams Works will involve real jobs with real responsibilities,” Norman said. “This program is for students who are prepared to work through the college years. Those who do so will be rewarded richly with the chance to avoid student loan debt after they graduate.”
“The current tuition-driven model of higher education is not working as it should for students or for the institutions. The costs to students are higher than many can afford. Colleges and universities are facing declining enrollments and falling revenue. The paradigm needs to shift, and Williams Works reflects our commitment as a university to move in an entirely new direction,” Norman commented.
WBU will accept 40 incoming freshmen into Williams Works next fall, and it anticipates adding 40 more freshmen into the program in each of the next two years. The university plans to add more students to the program in future years.
Norman said the work initiative is a natural fit for WBU on many fronts. The university is in a rural setting and has land available on its campus to be developed into a farm. The concepts of work and farming are reinforced in the regional culture.
“It has become painfully clear to us that many students and families have reached the point where a university education is a significant financial burden. Williams Works is our attempt to ease that burden for those families, and to give graduates a chance to start their adult lives without a crushing amount of student loan debt,” said the president.
Applications for the inaugural class of Williams Works will be accepted through February 1, 2020. Interested students can get more information and apply for the initiative at williamsbu.edu/WilliamsWorks.