By now, you may have seen headlines or news stories publicizing that the amount of outstanding student loan debt in this country is more than $1 trillion. That haunting figure is seriously holding an entire generation back (not to mention, potentially crippling the entire nation). But a small group of “work colleges” are giving their students a financial leg up by providing them the opportunity to earn while they learn, the Associated Press reports.
These jobs aren’t just the typical work-study jobs of idly scanning IDs at the library for minimum wage. Rather, students at work colleges are gaining real-world work experience with jobs such as landscaping gardens, growing or cooking food, and public relations positions. Their pay also does more than merely supplement a diet of instant noodles and microwavable mac & cheese — students at work colleges make up to $11.10 per hour and can also earn credits toward graduation.
It appears these seven schools — Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vt.; Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.; Berea College in Berea, Ky.; Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.; College of the Ozarks in Lookout, Mo.; Ecclesia College in Springdale, Ariz.; and Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C. — are becoming a more attractive alternative to higher education. One only needs to look at their skyrocketing enrollment to prove it. The AP reports that Sterling College saw a 26 percent gain from the fall of 2013 and already a 38 percent uptick from March 2013 to now. Berea College has seen a growth of nearly 300 applicants from 2009 to 2013.
According to the Work Colleges Consortium cited by the AP, the average debt of traditional four-year institutions hovers between $27,710 and $33,050. At the work colleges, however, students have a significantly smaller amount: a mere $12,121. The reason for the stark difference? Federal work study programs offer funds only for needy students, whereas these work colleges require all of their students to have a job, regardless of whether or not they can afford tuition.
Some students are even walking away with a degree debt-free, since Alice Lloyd, Berea College and College of the Ozarks completely cover tuition through work, grants and donations, the AP reports.
“It’s a core component of the educational program,” Robin Taffler, the executive director of the Work Colleges Consortium, told the AP. “It does not differentiate between those that can afford to pay for their education, from those that must work to cover their educational costs. And that’s a big deal. No student can buy their way out of this work program. So this essentially levels the playing field because everybody is doing a job.”