As Post-Baccalaureate Director of the Knox College Oral History Project, Casey Mendoza ’16 quickly realized she could not support herself without picking up other jobs. She found herself torn between financial survival and fulfilling her duties as a post-baccalaureate.
“I could not actually do it to the best of my abilities because it literally wasn’t financially sustainable for me to do so,” Mendoza said.
The post-bacc program allows students who have graduated to pursue a project and take classes for up to a year. Mendoza began the 2016-17 academic year working 15-20 hours per week on the Knox College Oral History Project, which involved a series of interviews with alumni, and assistant teaching for Chair of Journalism James Dyer. By Winter Term, she was spending 40 hours a week on paid freelance work and just 5-7 hours on the video project.
Dean of the College Kai Campbell said that post-baccs generally find the program clarifying for their future. He feels that students often move on to the next step in their career paths without taking time to stop and think. The post-bacc program, he said, offers students that pause.
“I think it provides a moment for folks to take stock, and that doesn’t mean change,” he said. “That means sometimes it’s taking a breath before moving forward and so I think it has been helpful for those folks.”
Post-baccalaureates typically work part-time in Galesburg to support themselves or rely on their families for financial support. While serving as Green Oaks Term program assistant last year, Liliana Coelho ’17 found herself working four jobs at one point.
“You’re expected to be a student at the same time you’re basically an unpaid intern and supporting yourself,” Coelho said.
Campbell hasn’t been made aware of many of the problems post-bac students face. He has heard of students experiencing a phenomenon of not being a Knox student yet not quite being a working adult. He feels that these students often seem to be in a state of limbo. Students may expect the demographics of Knox to look the same among graduation and are often caught off guard by a change in social dynamics.
“And so particularly, if the social network is strained … if 90 percent of their friend network was their class and now they’re gone, it does mean that the place is quite different than the way it was the year before,” he said.
Regarding financial support, Campbell feels that the issues post-bacs have with supporting themselves are a natural result of entering adulthood. He noted that some students who have moved off campus and gone off board have done similarly but by their own choice.
“You know, at some level, you have to go out and you have to find a way to feed yourself and house yourself, I guess,” Campbell said. “Whether it’s paying the college for room and board or whether it’s finding a place and cooking your own meals.”
Unlike other post-baccalaureate positions, Coelho’s was residential. While living and working at Green Oaks, she took on many of the duties of a Resident Advisor, dealing with group dynamics, grocery shopping, driving students for day and overnight trips, and planning activities. Coelho wishes room and board were offered to all post-baccalaureates.
While post-baccing did not lead Coelho directly to her current job as a field interviewer conducting research on aging, she feels it did prepare her for life after Knox. Ultimately, it gave her time to reflect on her experiences, say goodbye to Galesburg, and take classes she’d always wanted to take. Mendoza was able to live in Galesburg for a year after graduation, freelancing digitally and honing her skills as a journalist with StartUps, Tri-State Public Radio and local political campaigns.
“That’s really the biggest upside to post-baccing — you have all this freedom to really work on what you want to do post-grad,” Mendoza said.
Because post-baccing offers valuable opportunities for students who are able to support themselves to prepare for adult life, improve their skills and test out careers, the program has seen a significant increase in applicants recently. Students who design a post-baccalaureate with the support of a department advisor are no longer guaranteed a position.
Campbell noted a redesign of the post-bacc program that made the application process stricter than it has been. He said that close to 100 percent of students obtained post-bac status before the redesign, and that about 80 percent are usually offered post-bac status since the redesign a few years ago.
“The program as I understand it changed so that faculty and departments and areas, staff, had to put an idea to which people could apply, so it wasn’t just anything,” he said.
Jack Harman ’18, who self-designed a post-baccalaureate with Associate Professor of Theatre Craig Choma last year, found out he had been denied a week before graduation.
“Because the process of applying for a post-bacc really asks you to commit to being here for another year, I had already signed a lease and prepared myself to be here, so when it was denied it was like, I kind of have to be in Galesburg for another year,” Harman said.
Harman appealed the decision with a letter signed by the Theatre Department faculty but it was denied around finals. The Dean told him that because of an increase in applicants, the college no longer felt comfortable giving one department two post-baccs.
Harman, who hoped to test out a career in scenic art and woodworking, is currently volunteering with the Theatre Department and taking continued education, which asks students to take classes and pay per credit instead of essentially being paid in classes like a post-bacc. He believes the timing of the post-baccalaureate application process could add financial barriers to what is already a position reserved mainly for students of affluence.
“With it being at the end of the year, in terms of finding out it’s harder to save up for that,” Harman said. “The application process, I think at least, should be started in fall and you should find out by winter so you can be like, okay, great, I know that I’m staying here.”
While Mendoza is grateful for the opportunities she was afforded as a post-baccalaureate, she suggested changes like offering post-baccalaureates room and board, some financial support, or even wages per term instead of hourly could help make the program more accessible. She believes post-baccalaureates cannot work to the best of their abilities when they are preoccupied with surviving from week to week.
“You really aren’t given the resources to actually survive and work, which is a huge bummer,” she said.