Hard Work U
By David DeVoss
Both Democratic presidential candidates believe higher education in America should be free at public colleges and universities. Neither is forthcoming, unfortunately, on how to pay for this massive entitlement. Nor have they hinted that students should work campus jobs or give a year of community service in return for escaping a six-figure college loan. There is an existing model for how free college education can be achieved, however, and it can be found at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, two miles south of Branson, MO.
A fully accredited four-year Presbyterian college founded in 1906, College of the Ozarks enrolls 1,500 academically qualified students willing to work who have a demonstrated financial need. It then provides each of them with full tuition, room and board in return for 15 hours of work each week during the school year at one of 80 campus jobs.
Between semesters students enrolled at “Hard Work U” are expected to contribute the equivalent of two additional 40-hour workweeks helping run student-operated businesses that range from a hospital, print shop, dairy and grain mill to a hotel laundry, bakery and restaurant. Work supervisors grade students on their on-the-job performance with the final scores becoming part of each student’s academic record.
A number of colleges encourage students to gain practical experience outside the classroom. The motto of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA is “learn Through Doing.” But few schools rival C of O’s record of transforming students into business professionals. The college’s four-star lodge, restaurant and conference facility – the Keeter Center – employs 350 students who manage every aspect of the hospitality- focused enterprise. This year TripAdvisor ranked the Keeter Center as the “No. 1 Top Small Hotel in the U.S.”
According to the college’s founder Reverend James Forsythe, “the advantages of a Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially for those found worthy but who are without sufficient means to procure such training,” is essential for the well being of society. To promote that well being C of O offers 45 liberal arts programs each leading to a baccalaureate degree.
Colleges of the Ozarks’ graduates leave school debt free with a degree that matters. The school was featured in the 2015 edition of Colleges That Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck. “We highly recommend College of the Ozarks,” says Robert Franek, the Princeton Review’s senior vice-president of publishing who compiled the list. “It stands out not only for its outstanding academics but also for its affordability.” Recently, the school also was praised by U.S. News & Report that rated it No. 4 on its 2016 list of best regional colleges in the U.S.
Can a small Christian liberal arts college close to the Missouri-Arkansas border really serve as an example for a proposed nationwide entitlement affecting every public college? Remove the religious aspect. Both public and Christian colleges agree that impoverished students who are willing to work and possess the necessary academic qualifications deserve scholarships. But somebody somewhere has to pay and 15 hours a week is a small price to pay for receiving a college education without the burden of an oppressive student loan.