Wednesday, July 25, 2007

College of the Ozarks: A New Model?

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.


Ken D. said...

It looks like the NYT article was about the:
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, Missouri

not about the:
University of the Ozarks
Clarksville, Arkansas

sciencedoc said...

Still isn't clear whether it's or College of the Ozarks University of the Ozarks (called the latter again). But let that pass.

This doesn't seem like a good example of low-budget education.

The NYT article says the students earn the $15,900 tuition working 15 hrs per week. Nice work if you can get it! You won't get that kind of work at the state university where I'm employed, not as a student.

How does College of the Ozarks do it? Maybe their $300+ million endowment for 1600 students has something to do with it. About 10 times the endowment per student of the place where I work.

With a budget of $51 million, they're spending about $30K per year per undergraduate.

We do it for a lot less at most of the state universities. The expenditure on undergraduate education where I work is more like $12K per undergraduate.

Only 4 deans? That's one per 400 students. Per capita, there are fewer where I work. In the College of Arts and Sciences here, there is 1 dean/associate dean per 2400 students!

I know College of the Ozarks is less costly than Harvard and Stanford, but low-budget it ain't.

University said...

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patrick said...

I transferred to this school from a state school, and I must say, the classroom environment and interaction with the professors is something that is hard to find in today's educational systems. Yes, starting out as a freshman, some students are assigned less than desirable campus jobs, but just like the rest of society, the students network with the faculty, staff, and other students on campus in order to obtain a more desirable position. By graduation most students work in the educational departments of their field of study, or in the various other administration and staff offices on campus, or as a student supervisor for other students. Although it is a closed campus, and drinking is prohibited on campus, students of age are discouraged, but not prohibited from having an adult beverage, so long as they don't make a scene or get arrested. This school is very much concerned about it's image, and doesn't want to be associated with any type of compromising activity on behalf of it's students. I myself typically align with the Democratic party, but am somewhat socially conservative about my appearance and activities. College of the Ozarks typically brings high profile republicans to speak at special events on campus each year. George H.W. Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Elizabeth Dole, Colin Powell, and recently Sarah Palin, and soon to be Dubya (March 2011), have all been featured guests at the school. The only democrat to my knowledge who has spoken there in recent history is Zell Miller from Georgia, but he's just about as crazy as a democrat comes. Long story short, the College of the Ozarks is a rare school to find in this secular day and age. Most Graduates are able to find a career before leaving school, and the job placement rate is much, much, higher than most other colleges and universities in the region. Some local employers seek College of the Ozarks graduates so much for their work ethic, that students have been able to negotiate in some cases 20-30% increases in starting salaries. I've heard of some people refer to the College of the Ozarks model as slavery because of their school wide work program, but when you get down to it, students from these demographics can be a slave to CofO for 15 hours a week throughout eight semesters, or they be a slave to student loans and banks for 30+ years.