By Bryan O'Keefe
As everyone probably already knows, CCAP gets very excited when we read about innovations at traditional colleges and universities that attempt to move higher education into the 21st century. I read about an interesting innovation this past week in Inside Higher Ed, dealing with the federal work study program. Rhodes College in Tennessee has started a new student work study program called the “Student Associate Program” – here is the description from the story:
“…The Student Associate Program that allows undergraduates to compete for positions in departments across campus, earning upwards of $12 per hour for 10 to 15 hours of work each week. The program is funded in part through the institution, as well as through federal work-study monies and support from the Lumina Foundation for Education. Sixty students have participated to date in the steadily expanding program, with plans of eventually including 160 a year, about 10 percent of all Rhodes students.”
The theory behind this new program is that most work study jobs are meaningless, only pay the minimum wage, and contribute very little to the student’s career goal.
The jury is still out of course on whether the Rhodes program will be a success, but at least it’s a different idea and, on its face, looks like a way to make work study programs more productive and meaningful for students. When students are given meaningful jobs, they are usually more productive, work harder and put more effort into it. There is also a good arguement to be made that it’s a better allocation of intellectual resources to have a bright college student working in the type of job that Rhodes program supports than having that same student wash dishes at the cafeteria.
When I attened the George Washington University as an undergrad, I receieved a federal work study grant. Luckily for me, GWU had partnerships with many off-campus employers and I was able to land a job working for the Alexander Graham Bell Association in Washington, DC. I ended up working there for 3 years and the “work study” funtioned more like an extended internship – and I have no doubt that the general office experience that I gained while working there made me better prepared for the jobs that I have had since graduating. Of course, most colleges are not located in big cities with lots of offices, making my work study experience atypical. But I’m obviously happy that some college administrators are looking at ways to change the “status quo” for work study programs, making them more like the one that I had.
An official with Kenyon College, which is also considering a new work study structure, was quoted by Inside Higher Ed as saying, “I believe that higher education can be made more cost effective through new ideas. Anything that allows tuition not to be raised is a good thing.” Amen to that!