I have a column in today's USA Today called "The Tuition Game." The piece talks about recent big changes in financial aid at some elite colleges, and the self-help requirement. My point is basically that -- given the size of endowments at elite universities these days, and their newly generous aid packages -- it's interesting that these colleges still drum students themselves for token contributions. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc., all require that kids on financial aid work 7-12 hours per week, and often over the summer, to contribute financially to their own education.
Let me say right up front that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. One of the reasons I think kids don't take high school so seriously is they don't have to work to pay for it. I fully approve of kids working while going to college. But given that elite colleges don't need the money a kid working 10 hours a week will cough up, it's important to realize that this is a philosophical choice more than anything else. Elite colleges believe that kids on financial aid should work in the cafeteria, answer phones at the campus center, deliver newspapers, or whatever other jobs are available on campus in order to earn their keep.
But if Harvard, Yale, and the others believe it's good for kids on aid to work to pay for their education, why don't they think all kids should work for their education? One of the biggest benefits of an elite education is the connections you forge with classmates during non-class hours. If kids on aid are working all the time, and wealthier kids are not, it contributes to an already-too-prevalent class divide on elite campuses.
I'd like to see these elite colleges require everyone to work to earn their keep. There's no reason not to; tuition represents only about 60% of the cost of a student's education at private universities, so every student is -- to some degree-- on financial aid. I see no reason that there should be a distinction between kids on obvious financial aid and those on less obvious aid. Furthermore, private colleges can ask for whatever they want. They could require all students to learn origami for graduation if they felt like it. You can always go elsewhere.
For an example of a college that does have a work requirement, I highlight Berea College in Kentucky. This fascinating institution has less of a class divide issue because, well, all students are from families earning less than about $50,000 a year. The college charges no tuition, and to keep costs low, asks all students to work what comes out to about 10-15 hours a week. Berea administrators have found that this requirement boosts community and keeps students academically engaged. On the whole, I think those are pretty good outcomes.