The Working Families Success Network (WFSN) approach at community colleges (formerly known as Centers for Working Families) offered access to a range of essential economic supports in one convenient location to help students and their families build self-sufficiency, stabilize their finances, and move ahead.

The WFSN approach, which is being continued through Integrated Service Delivery initiatives, is especially important for low-income students who face financial hurdles. Many simply cannot afford to stay in school—whether it is because continuing would mean giving up employment, paying the bills, or responding to a crisis. And too often, financial assistance is difficult to access—located in multiple places at the college or not offered at all.

A 2020 report looking back at 15 years since the initiative's beginnings found that:

  • Providing individuals with services from all three areas addressed--workforce and education services, income/work supports, and financial coaching and asset building--is essential
  • The strategic sequencing of those services is most effective for families
  • Services should be tailored to specific populations
  • Coaching is critical to achieving the goals of increased employment and financial stability

One of the most important lessons learned: It cannot simply be a program within an organization, but must become the way in which organizations do business.

OVERVIEW

WFSN programs reach students where they are by responding to multiple economic challenges. The approach combines what community colleges do so well—provide individuals with training that connects them to dynamic careers—with the financial support necessary to complete education and connect with a career path.

MDC managed a national network of colleges that integrated training, income supports, and financial services for low-income students. With the support of the WFSN–National Leadership Group, community colleges in the network received a variety of services and opportunities aimed at increasing their programs' effectiveness.

WSFN community college sites included:

  • Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • High Point, N.C.
  • Helena-West Helena, Ark.
  • San Bruno, Calif.
  • New Haven, Conn.
  • Norwalk, Conn.
  • Malvern, Ark.
  • Little Rock, Ark.
  • Pine Bluff, Ark.

The WFSN strategy permeates several strands of our work at MDC, including:

  • Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) Collaborativea partnership between LISC, MDC, and United Way Worldwide (UWW) to assist low-income working families in achieving economic security through the seamless delivery of services and supports.
  • Financial Empowerment Strategies for Student Successa project focused on helping grow effective practices for providing financial capability services (e.g., financial education, benefits access, and/or work supports) to community college students with the goal of promoting financial empowerment and postsecondary completion.

IMPACT

  • MDC developed an implementation guide and toolkit for the Working Families Success Network strategy at community colleges. The guide incorporates real examples and materials from the program’s learning network.
  • report from MDC examines the experiences of community colleges across the United States, ranging from California to Connecticut, which are implementing the WFSN approach to help low-income students attain financial stability and move up the economic ladder.
  • A report on lessons learned and best practices for advancing employment and economic mobility gained in WFSN highlights 15 years of programming related to bundled, integrated services—in workforce and education, income/work supports, and financial coaching/asset building— toward advancing employment, financial health and economic mobility for jobseekers.
    MDC supported ISD in colleges to support student retention and completion, and now over two dozen colleges now utilize the ISD approach to support students. MDC's partner organization, Achieving the Dream, a community college reform network that MDC helped create and incubate, has integrated student success frameworks into many of their initiatives after embedding the ISD approach in 19 colleges in four states.

Helping families access economic supports is an example of how MDC is committed to equipping Southern leaders, institutions, and communities to improve economic mobility and advance equity.

GO DEEPER

For more information, contact Jenna Bryant or visit the The Working Families Success Strategy College Implementation Guide.