I heard this piece on “Here and Now” Friday and spent most of the car ride nodding my head in agreement. Wick Sloane, an adjunct professor in Boston and a former college administrator, suggests that paying students $10 an hour to study a few times a week would earn a greater return on investment for federal student aid funds. He suggests that community college students in general would benefit from the money — not just as an incentive, but as a way of making college feasible. More:
“[Community college students] are people who usually work 40 plus hours a week. They’re trying to take three or four courses. They have long commutes back and forth. They have rent to pay,” Sloane continued. “What’s misunderstood in our public policy debates about college today is that someone who goes to school for four years and stays in a dorm has become the non-traditional student.”
In his latest “Inside Higher Ed” column, Sloane proposed paying students to study by allocating funding from the existing $978 million Federal Work-Study Program’s budget for a pilot program. Under Sloane’s plan, students would swipe cards into supervised study areas. They would be paid $10 per hour, with a cap at $1,200 per semester, an amount comparable to the existing cap on Federal Work-Study awards.
Sloane says that the single greatest problem facing community college students is finding the time and space to study. For many, an extra three or four extra hours a week means “the difference between succeeding or failing, mastering college algebra or not.”
In my (admittedly limited) experience, that’s absolutely true. It’s often a few hours a week that would make a difference for my students. When faced with having to decide between showing up for work or spending an extra hour with a textbook, there’s not much choice if work puts food on the table now — even if education would put better food (or more food) on the table later.
This is also a great argument for why textbook prices should be a major concern for educators, particularly at the community college level. Using the same expensive books that universities use might seem to put our students on equal footing, but instead, I think high textbook costs can really exclude some students from class. They can’t afford to buy the books until financial aid kicks in, which is sometimes well into the term; by that time, they’ve already lost valuable study time and a chance to get the basics of the class down. Plus, when the choice is a $110 book or groceries for a month — even I know what I’d pick (and I love books!).
The rest of Sloane’s column is here. Worth a read.