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Friday, April 6, 2012

Professor Suggests Paying Students To Study

A union of California community college teachers protest tution fee hikes with cases of Ramen packages in front of California Gov. Jerry Brown's office in San Francisco, in March, 2011.  (AP / Paul Sakuma)

A union of California community college teachers protest tuition fee hikes with cases of Ramen packages in front of California Gov. Jerry Brown's office in San Francisco in 2011. (AP)

The image of the typical undergraduate — attending a university, living in a dorm and eating copious amounts of pizza — is dangerously outdated, says one college professor.

In truth, almost half of all U.S. undergraduates now attend community colleges, where they often juggle full-time jobs, commutes and even parenting. As a result, some students are making sacrifices and going hungry.

“Many students are trading textbooks for food,” said Wick Sloane, an adjunct English professor at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. “Community college students are very misunderstood as a portion of American higher education.

“These 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.”

An Innovative Solution

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.”

“Nothing is more important than every extra hour that we can create in their lives to study,” Sloane said. “And my colleagues agree with that. That’s the hardest part of their life. They need time to study.”

Changing Public Policy

Sloane says in addition to grading papers and giving lectures, he spends hours each week helping students get on food stamps or buying lunch for a hungry student.

These experiences have led to Sloane’s advocacy work to update the Federal Work-Study Program.

“The needs of students have changed. The Work-Study Program came into being in the 1960s with President Lyndon Johnson’s magnificent Higher Education Act, and that included the Pell Grants and some federal loans and then the work study,” Sloane said. “Back in the 1960s this was a program that could take people who don’t have a lot of money to Princeton or to Stanford. The maximum Pell Grant hasn’t grown now. It’s only $5,500.”


  • Wick Sloane, adjunct professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College and Inside Higher Ed columnist

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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