The Cincinnati-based nonprofit Education at Work, in partnership with ASU and the online payment company PayPal, has a better idea: How about a job that, in addition to paying hourly, comes with up to $6,000 a year in tax-free tuition assistance?
Here's how it works:
Education at Work hires students to help PayPal with online customer service for $9 per hour. After working between 15 and 20 hours per week for two months, students can earn an extra $500 to $3,000 per semester, depending on their grade-point average, to defray school expenses. Education at Work acts as a liaison between PayPal and student workers, tailoring work schedules around classes. The studbowents work on campus at ASU (within walking distance of the dorms) to keep the commute easy.
"The basic concept is to provide employment for our students while recognizing that the reason they're in college is to get an education," said Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of community outreach and partnerships at ASU. "It's much more student-centered than a regular customer-service center, because we're interested in academic success. For example, we know schedules and stress levels are going to change during finals week, so we'll accommodate that."
Former Convergys CEO Dave Dougherty founded Education at Work in 2012. But this is the nonprofit's first foray outside of the Cincinnati area, where it has a similar partnerships with the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Mount St. Joseph University, and Northern Kentucky University.
The program aims to help combat the growing student-debt crisis, said Megan Bowling, marketing director for Education at Work.
Arizona students graduate, on average, with less debt than students in most other states. But as the price of tuition has increased, nearly doubling over the past decade, so too has student debt. About 54 percent of ASU students who graduated from the school’s Tempe campus borrowed money to pay for their degree in 2014, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. On average, they finished about $21,920 in the hole — 25 percent more than students who graduated in 2004.
In its Cincinnati centers, Education at Work reports, student employees graduate with about 50 percent less debt than their peers.
Bowling said the job gives students the opportunity to develop real-world career skills before graduation. (Dougherty himself credits a university job for launching his first post-school job with Procter & Gamble.)
Employers value many of the traditional skills championed in school, such as the ability to write and edit reports and analyze quantitative data. But, according to a recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, they rank softer skills, such as verbal communication and the ability to work as a team, as more important.
"These are skills that can really only be developed through experience working in a fast-paced, collaborative environment," Bowling said.
So what's the catch?
The program is shaping up to be incredibly competitive. More than 700 students applied for the first 50 positions, which started training this week.
Students who'd like a shot at one of the 350 additional positions Education at Work hopes to fill by the end of the year can apply online at educationatwork.org.