By Bryan O’Keefe
A friend forwarded along to me today an interesting New York Times piece article about the College of the Ozarks. In the world of higher education, CO– as we shall call it in this blog anyway – is a true anomaly. The students graduate with virtually no student loan debt, which is pretty much unheard of these days. They can accomplish this goal because the university requires students to work 15 hours per week, usually in rather undesirable jobs like milking cows and baking bread. They have far less bureaucracy than most universities and they do not pay their professors big salaries. The school – which has a Christian bent to say the least – also bans much of the recreational activities that are commonplace on most other campuses, like drinking.
Now, it’s very clear that the College of the Ozarks isn’t for everyone (I’ll be honest and say that it isn’t for me). But there could be some variations on this model and some lessons to be learned. First of all, there is nothing wrong with requiring students to work during college. Many people will say “but isn’t that what work study is for” – yes, but a lot of students do not qualify for work study and even those that do usually don’t work that much. I was a work study student and still found time to work an additional job or two, depending upon the circumstances. It might make sense for a college to offer tuition discounts to those students that do work a lot.
On the other points, CO makes a compelling case for why we don’t need 25 associate deans of blah, blah, blah. They also seem to be able to recruit decent faculty despite the lower pay, which has been a topic of some discussion in the comments section of this blog lately. I suppose that the zero alcohol policy also fits with the school’s larger mission. I would never go that far, but there is probably a happy medium between getting drunk every night and instituting Prohibition.
In any event, CO is a worthwhile case study on how to depart from the traditional university model. And to the people out there that claim that academic prestige, faculty quality, etc. all suffer when you go down this path…..think about this. The University of the Ozarks just became a four-year college in 1965. But it already ranks no. 30 by U.S. News and World Report among Midwestern colleges offering both liberal arts and professional degrees. They must be doing something right.
UPDATE: An intrepid reader made an important correction to this blog after I posted it. The NYT story was about the College of the Ozarks, not the University of the Ozarks, as I had originally written. I'll confess to not being aware that the Ozarks had so many colleges/universities named after them! In any event, I have corrected the original blog to reflect the right name. But my entire blog was based on information I gleaned from the NYT story, so nothing else changed. But thank you to the alert reader who pointed out the error.