By Dr. Brett Cooper

Williams Works opens doors to Christian higher ed

By Dr. Brett Cooper

Williams Works allows Williams Baptist University students to work their way through college. It’s an exciting and innovative program, but it was born of the simple desire to make an academically outstanding, Christ-centered education attainable for the families who find higher education increasingly difficult to afford. 

A Williams education is transformative. Disciples are made here, and lives are made better. For the past 82 years and running, men and women have been equipped for their careers, and their lives, at WBU. They learn from an incredible faculty, uncommonly qualified in their fields of study and called of God to teach at this place.  

Faculty and staff at Williams pour their lives into their students. That, as much as anything, is how lives are changed at WBU. It is an academic and spiritual journey that is joined by the entire campus family. Professors know their students personally and care deeply about them. They see the enormous potential in each student God sends our way, and they can be pretty relentless in pushing students to reach that potential! 

Students at Williams encounter a warm, loving (and yes, challenging) academic environment. They graduate from WBU prepared both to lead and to serve in their vocations, their families, their churches and their communities. 

Students need Williams. And yet, a college education is getting harder and harder for families to afford, especially the working-class families who are predominant in our state and region.  

And on the other side of the coin, it is very challenging for colleges and universities to make their education any more affordable, which is doubly true for private institutions like WBU, which receive no government funding. Most colleges and universities find themselves embroiled in an “arms race” of scholarships in an effort to attract students. It has reached a point where scholarships (or discounting, as it’s known internally) are so high the institutions are actually losing money on their students. It presents a very real threat for institutions nationwide, several of which have closed in the face of these hardships. 

So, we have reached a point where families cannot afford the higher learning their children desperately need for their future, and higher education institutions cannot afford to make it any less costly. It is quite the conundrum.  

Enter, Williams Works. At WBU, we surveyed this educational landscape that is so challenging for families and institutions alike, and we started weighing alternatives to a system that is clearly failing. We were on a quest for a better way, a way to make a Williams education more affordable for the students and their families who need it. 

We came to the realization that WBU is uniquely well situated to pursue a work-college model, where students work to pay for their education. We had land available for a produce farm where students could work. We had businesses and industries nearby with a chronic need for workers. We had a history of student work, dating to the earliest days of the school. And we serve a region where people value work, and don’t mind doing it. 

Williams Works was born. We launched the program in the fall of 2020, and after only three years we expect to have nearly 100 students in Williams Works this fall. God has opened many doors, and the operation has expanded far beyond those initial plans to include a free-range egg operation, a very successful store, a boutique hotel (Hotel Rhea) in downtown Walnut Ridge, and now a meat processing plant. We have students working across campus, on Eagle Farms and with a multitude of community partners. 

Students in Williams Works put in 16 hours of work per week all through the fall and spring semesters (even finals week). In exchange, their full tuition and student service fees are covered. They can also apply to work full-time in the summer to cover the following year’s room & board. It gives them the very real chance to complete a truly outstanding, Christian university education debt-free. 

These students also get a tremendous value added in work education. They are learning responsibility, and they are learning the value of work itself. They are taught a theology of work and what it means to “Do your work heartily, as for God and not for people” (Colossians 3:23). And they are putting together a resume that will demonstrate their work ethic and make them very attractive to prospective employers after they graduate. 

Students need Williams. And Williams Works gives them the chance to complete that life-changing education. 

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