At These American Colleges, Everyone Works and There Are No Tuition Fees
(NewsNation) – From hotel staff to firefighters, there’s something surprising that many workers at the College of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri have in common: They’re college students.
While many undergraduates are forced to work their way through college to pay for their degree, at the College of the Ozarks this is by design. Each of the 1,500 students in the four-year Christian “work college” is assigned a job to offset the cost of education.
Students work 15 hours a week during the school year and can graduate debt-free. This is a boon for them, as well as for the school, which can reduce costs by using students to fill many jobs on campus.
“We therefore remain true to our mission since our founding in 1906. We continue to care for and provide education to those who are worthy but without sufficient means,” said College of the Ozarks Labor Dean Bryan Cizek.
According to Cizek, 90% of every class attending the school must demonstrate financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The school’s innovative approach is relevant at a time when until 43 million Americans have some form federal student debt.
Work colleges, which require students to work in exchange for zero or relatively low tuition fees, are one way of solving this problem. There are currently nine universities in the United States that meet the federal requirements necessary to be designated as working colleges.
Berea College President Lyle Roelofs said they stopped charging tuition in 1892 after the then president remarked that students would study for a year or two before running out of funds and returning home to start saving again.
“He first said that every student attending Berea College will also work in the college so that they get income but he also said that they will not pay tuition, I will raise funds from wealthy people in other parts of the country to support this cause,” Roelofs said.
The College of the Ozarks and Berea College both rely on a non-tuition funding stream to implement the working college model. This includes a mix of private donations, Pell Grants, and sustaining funding from large endowments.
Berea’s $1.6 billion endowment covers about three-quarters of the college’s operating expenses for its approximately 1,600 students. College of the Ozarks has an endowment just under half a billion dollars; its staffing ratio per student is one of the highest in the country.
The use of this type of funding limits the number of students that can be enrolled each year and can make schools particularly vulnerable to changes in the economy.
“If we had an extended period, say 10 years, of no real gains in the financial markets, it would start to hurt really bad because our costs will go up if we continue to educate the same number of students,” Roelofs said.
Officials say college programs not only make college affordable for students from low-income families — the average household income of a Berea student is less than $30,000 – but also teach them marketable skills and invest them in the campus community.
“[The] work program is holistic, it prepares students well for their vocation outside of school,” said Sawyer Nichols, a senior who currently works in the public relations office at the College of the Ozarks.
Nichols said an internship he took in school helped him land a job at a digital marketing company after graduation, serving as an example of how colleges work. can put graduates on the path to breaking the cycle of poverty.
US News & World Report recently named the College of the Ozarks as the 1st school of social mobility among regional colleges in the Midwest, a ranking composed by evaluating the graduation rates of Pell Grant scholarship students. Beree College took sixth place for Social Mobility in the National Liberal Arts Colleges Magazine Rankings. Both schools show graduation rates above the midpoint of four-year schools.
Meanwhile, federal government statistics show that the average annual cost – which includes living expenses – is barely $7,195 at the College of the Ozarks and $5,222 at Berea College, well below the midpoint of $19,534 for four-year schools.
College of the Ozarks students work to offset what they would otherwise pay in tuition; Beree College also remunerates its students for their work, which allows them to invest in room and board.
When asked how the working college model could be replicated more widely, Cizek pointed out that it will take time.
“It’s not an easy thing, it can’t happen overnight. We’ve built this over 100 years… It takes a lot of money to do what we do and it also takes a culture that thrives on hard work,” he said.
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