The idea comes at a time when declining state support has pushed up tuition at Utah’s public universities. State funding per student here is down 18 percent since 2008, when adjusted for inflation. During that time, annual tuition and fees at the University of Utah rose from $5,285 to $9,222.
Students typically work 16 to 20 hours a week through EAW, the upper limit of what some experts say is acceptable during college; research by an offshoot of the organization that administers the ACT college admissions test has found that students who work more than 15 hours a week are more likely to fall behind in their academic progress and to graduate on time.
But that also depends on how they use the rest of their time, said Judith Scott-Clayton, a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“If they'd be playing video games instead, then working is probably not worse and may well be better than that particular alternative,” said Scott-Clayton, who also directs the Economics and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. (The Hechinger Report, which produced this story, is an independent unit of Teachers College.)
Randall said the kind of work students perform through EAW is not interfering with their education; it’s enhancing it.
“If we're trying to get people ready for jobs, the more we can make school look and feel like the real world, at some point, the better off it is,” he said.
As for the companies’ largesse, it has an economic motive, said Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “These firms are not philanthropists. They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re actually looking at the bottom line.”
As employees retire and companies seek to establish brand awareness with a new generation of consumers, businesses such as Microsoft and Discover “want to maintain a strong relationship with that potential flow of workers,” Smith said.
Discover cites several benefits to employing students through Education at Work. Typical call center employees want time off on evenings and weekends; those are times when students are most available to work.
“It works out to be perfect in terms of managing productivity,” said Tracy Hedrick, vice president of Discover’s Phoenix Operations Center where around 300 EAW students are employed through a partnership with Arizona State University.
As for the quality of the students’ work, Scott Blevins, a senior vice president at EAW said the Salt Lake City office has “one of the highest customer satisfaction results” Microsoft has seen on the consumer side of its business.
These firms are not philanthropists. They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re actually looking at the bottom line.
Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, on the businesses that partner with EAW to provide students jobs and money towards tuition
Accustomed to hitting the books daily for their classes, Hedrick said, students learn faster than traditional call-center employees.
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