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Monday, April 14, 2014
Work Colleges
Students work for their universities to help pay off tuition fees

Many students around the world spend years after college working off debt. But at seven "Work Colleges" in the U.S., students are required to work on campus as part of their studies — doing everything from cooking to public relations — to pay off at least some of their tuition before they graduate.

The arrangement not only makes college more affordable for students who otherwise might not be able to go, it also gives them real-life experience and teaches them responsibility, officials said. "I love it," said Melissa Eckstrom, who is an assistant garden manager at Sterling College in Craftsbury in the U.S. state of Vermont, where she's studying sustainable agriculture. "It's really satisfying to work in the garden and do all this hands-on work — and I go to the kitchen and sit down for a meal and I'm like, I grew this."

With college tuition rising globally, "earning while learning" is becoming more appealing for some students. At each of the seven so-called Work Colleges in the U.S., work is required and relied on for the daily operation of the institution. The students are then evaluated based on their academic results and their work performance.

"It's a core component of the educational program," said Robin Taffler, executive director of the Work Colleges Consortium. This kind of program "does not differentiate between those that can afford to pay for their education and those that must work at the same time to cover their tuition. And that's a big deal. No student can buy their way out of the work program. So this essentially levels the playing field because everybody is doing a job," she said.

Eckstrom works up to 100 hours a semester at US$11.10 (approximately NT$340) an hour, so the pay helps with her school costs, she said. She also gets lower tuition fees for coming a week early for training before the start of the school year. "It's all very helpful," said Eckstrom, 23, who said she probably couldn't have afforded to attend a university like Sterling otherwise.

The Work Colleges save on costs by having students work on campus and run the daily operation because they don't have as much staff, Taffler said. And the "earning while learning" concept appears to be becoming more popular among students as a way to pay for college.

At Sterling College, enrollment was up 26 percent in the fall of 2013, while the rate of applications rose 38 percent from last March to now. The Work Colleges Consortium reports that 75 percent of graduates agreed their college work helped prepare them for their first job. Meanwhile, the same percentage of graduates also agreed that their work experience helped them to understand the importance of service to others.

Charles Elliott will be graduating this year, debt-free, from the College of the Ozarks, a private school nicknamed "Hard Work U." He's worked as a chef in the school's restaurant, as a waiter in the dining room, as a landscaper in the gardens, and is now working in the public relations office. It's taught him how to juggle his time between studies and work and given him experience that has helped him find a job with a software company. "I've had opportunities to work in four different places here on campus," he said. "I'm getting more experience in different fields."

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