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typical undergraduate — attending a university, living in a dorm and eating copious amounts of pizza — is dangerously outdated, says one college professor.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

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Gregory Reynolds Morell

    Students who work have a much better time budgeting their time—give them free good food but paying them to study is ridiculous!

    • Bethanie

      why would it be rediculous?

  • Anonymous1120

    The food bacnk is a good idea to offer as any college kid (young or old) is going to accept free food.

    I do not agree with paying students to study, that is why students are given grants and scholarships on the promise of good grades to continue earning.   The work study money is helping students to earn job experience.  Once you graduate that work experience is beneficial to earning a career.  It teaches responsibility for their grades and time management which is very valulable! 

  • Anonymous

    My wife and I are non-traditional students at a mid-size university in West Virginia. We both work hard, in school and at our part-time jobs. But, not unlike the experience of some other students, we are running out of food. Housing (anywhere) near campus is very expensive and text books are very expensive. After we pay for those two expenditures, we dont have much to live on.
    I am not complaining. We are choosing to go to school. I am working on a second Master’s degree, but it is NOT easy. Thank you for airing this story!!

  • Clara

    Too bad we don’t try using this “food” method or even having the military get donations from the public for all their “illegal” wars for raw materials from other countries.

    Let’s see how far the war hawks would get.

  • Lavada

    “A certain percentage of children have the habit of thinking; one of the aims of education is to cure them of this habit.”  …Bertrand Russell…

    “First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made boards of education.  …Mark Twain…

  • Sharondempsey

    My daughter lives in London. her husband went to a reputable college in the city. He was appalled to learn how much a college education costs in the US.  The cost of his entire schooling  about equaled ONE year of my daughter’s at Rutgers! How about working on decreasing the exobitant cost of higher education in this country? Then maybe students could afford to eat as well as attend classes.

  • Anonymous

    Oh boy….what planet is this part-time professor on? Paying students to get a community college education? They are already being subsidized by the taxpayer. If they then get food stamps, they are being doubly subsidized by the taxpayer. If a student isn’t smart enough to figure out how to make a living, get an education and feed himself, what is he doing in college in the first place? This is college we’re talking about…not high school. How about putting more money into tech and vocational schools for these students to get a practical education with paying  internships? Can the Creative Writing and bring in the Plumbing.

    As for Bunker Hill Community College students specifically, I ride the subway with these students all the time. Few seem to be starving. They nearly all have smart phones which they pull out immediately for texting. That’s $100 per month right there which could go to food. Many of them smell of cigarettes. And, frankly, more of them seem overweight than malnourished. I will also note that the parking lots at that school are always jammed, even though it has its own subway stop. If these starving students can afford a car in Massachusetts, they are not destitute.

    Perhaps the professor could organize a meeting of professors on the state payroll. They could all take a salary cut to finance their students.

  • Irene

    You show also look into the issue of health insurance for college students in MA.  They’re required to take insurance offered by the school if they don’t have coverage some other way.  Many students at community colleges have no money to pay for the premium.   Loans don’t cover the cost.  Many go without the coverage.

  • Milo

    I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.

    • Tnbn72

      Jobs that accept uneducated and unskilled workers have long left this country, or are on the way out. Nurses need 4 years of education. Do you really want to have a society where only a high school education is valued? Pursuing education in the sciences, methematics, the arts, and education itself… these should be appreciated.

  • Jturne02

    I wanted to comment on Professor’s Wick Sloane
    idea. I agree with him. I am a 27 year old student attending a private
    school. My schools tuition cost is $32,000 (considered the lowest in five years) and room an board costs
    $9,800 and there is a 3 % increase for the next school year. I have not
    been irresponsible with my money. I recently got out of the military and
    I am using the Yellow Ribbon and the GI Bill to cover most of the costs
    for school. I receive $27,500 in aid from both. Even with that amount
    of aid, I still have a huge gap  that I need cover. I had to move off
    campus after my first year. I can’t afford to live on campus and pay
    9,800 for basically 9 months of study. I wanted to get a better
    education so I chose a private school. Yes, it is my choice to go to a
    private school and I am very lucky in comparison to other students who
    are not veterans. But I disagree that students are irresponsible with
    their money. As you can see for yourself it is even hard for someone
    such as myself to try to cover all the costs without some additional
    loans and aid. And I still have to plan to pay for Grad school. Most of
    us are doing what we can with what we have in order to get the best
    education possible. I believe that people genuinely want to learn. And I
    wonder how many potentially bright students, brighter than myself, miss
    out on a good education because of the high costs of education. 

  • Santos535

    The University of Central Florida has a newly opened food bank, the knights helping knights pantry. This program was started by students and every month has plenty of students using it. Professors give credit for students who donate food and throughout the University you see drop off areas. It may not be a need that 100% of students need but even 1% of students at a 59,000 student University means 590 people who need help.


  • Nick

    How long are liberals going to keep denying the importance of intact families? Nothing wrong with this idea, but at some point we need to look at the underlying ills of society.

  • Lexie J.

    I am a non-traditional student and also agree with Professor Sloane. He has some wonderful ideas. I started last year at a community college and am now attending a private school. My yearly tuition is over $30,000. My scholarship, grant, and loan money make it easier, but I still have to work to pay my bills and pay for extra supplies and books. It is a challenge almost every day to make financial decisions in every aspect of my life. I realize that I made the decision to attend such an expensive school, but I believe there should be more programs in place to help students succeed.

  • Rachel Skousen Herr

    I am a 37 year old college student in the midst of a nasty divorce. I was a stay at home mom for many years and when I saw my marriage deteriorating a couple of years ago (during/after my son successfully over came a cancerous brain tumor).  I like to say “I got to keep my son, and not my marriage, I’ll take my son.” but the realities is I need a job that has good health care, decent wages in the long term. Without a college degree I won’t be as viable of a candidate for that. My lawyer wants me to find a job, even if it is $8 and that leaves me in a quandary and I feel like stuck in a vicious cycle that will leave me in poverty levels if I don’t finish school.  My soon to be ex makes more than 100k, and due to the laws not favoring stay at home moms currently in my state my only way to avoid welfare is finishing school. 

    I appreciate this professor looking out for people like me. I started college after high school but found balancing a full time job, school and not realizing I had learning disabilities made it difficult to balance. Survival eventually kicked in and school fell to the way side. If someone would have paid me to study I would have probably finished school and never been in this situation to begin with.

  • Courtney

    I worked at my school library.  Most of the time I was basically getting paid to study once I finished my work.  I did not qualify for Work Study, but with this job, I was able to eat and pay for rent while studying for my Chemical Engineering classes.  I think that this is a great idea, but what students will qualify for the proposed Study Work?

  • Larryrobinson1

    I am a student at a southern Indiana comm college, married with a son and Putting food on the table is a major concern, which does effect my grades since I have to work full time

  • Freda

    At the community college in Kansas where I have taught for 20 years, we are becoming aware of hungry students and have formed a task force to address the issue. What the Boston professor says rings true in Kansas.  Teachers help students behind the scenes not only with food, but with clothing as well.

  • J Frog

    I’m all for feeding the hungry but I hope we aren’t trying to take ALL the struggle out of life.  Who among us hasn’t struggled and been made the better for it?  Let’s not take away all the incentive out of saving and economizing to try and get ourselves ahead in life.

  • M. Morgan

    Unfortunately, the spiral into poverty and hunger is not limited to those in the Community college system. I was employed by one of the largest companies in Florida, one which employs recent college graduates at an appalling rate of pay in part-time positions.  Arranging for food to be provided on holidays and preparing meals for our cast was something my immediate leaders and I felt was an imperative. These young people were industrious employees. How can we be expected to compete on the world stage with so little support for education and our youth? How can we justify tax breaks for the wealthy while investing so little in our future?

  • TTallon-Blanchard

    My daughter and I were just talking about this, her school does not currently have a food plan, they will next year.  However, a food bank including an option for students to earn or for those who have some budget to purchase healthy weekly food baskets with Farmer’s Lunch ingredients (easy to carry, easy to eat and very healthy) would be a great option.  Also, include themed baskets with ingredients each week with simple instructions to encourage healthy diversity on every level.  We talk a lot about time to cook and shop being a huge issue, resulting in spontaneous, hurried purchases which are not healthy and are very expensive.   Those on a tight budget would benefit a great deal from the Food Bank Idea. I’m not sure about trading study time for food, but work study money could be automatically placed in a weekly food basket concept as an option.

  • Tina Little

    I have been brought to tears of frustration many times. In the last 8 years I have gone back to seek a degree, found myself adjusting my goals and expectations when I became a single parent. I try daily to juggle school and work-study, without compromising on the care and attention my daughter, now almost 5, deserves. I must work a minimum of 20 hours per week to maintain child care subsidies that allow me to stay in school full time. When available hours are just not there, and when getting good grades in my Clinical Laboratory Science pre-professional program trumps work, I am left with thousands in child care bills. I have student loans that JUST cover the cost of tuition and books and some for transportation, with very little left for childcare. I face derision by cashiers when I bring out my LINK card or WIC coupons. There are so many more challenges I could go into, with my decision to commit to breastfeeding my infant while in college full time… I should probably write a book of my own, but for now I only have the privelege of listening to you and your guest covering this personal and crucial topic for me. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue for me and the other parents struggling to raise ourselves up in higher education while raising our children as well.

    Thank you,
    Tina Little
    Junior, NIU CLS Program

    • mhleta

      Tina, do you think that having to swipe into a designated area to study would be problematic or helpful, given the challenges of being a single parent? I’m thinking that most people study after their kids have gone to bed (I did) and that being compensated $10 an hour to study in a library while your child is with a babysitter or in day care isn’t that helpful. Yes or no?

  • Mickeycadarette

    We do not need to teach our youth that when you go to college you apply for WELFARE! Michigan gave students the opportunity for online “Free Food” AKA The Bridge Card (also without proof that they are attending school!) …… It overburdened the welfare system when students could apply for $200/month in food benefits by doing nothing more than applying online………. Except for having children while going to school, each student should be able to earn enough money for their food, instead of taking it from the mouths of poor families and seniors. Students that need food should be made to appear in person at the county welfare offices so they can see what “down and out” really looks like…., Students are the most able-bodied of our population and are the most capable of working…even at minimum wage for 5 hours they can make enough $ to feed themselves…or are they paying for Smart Phones and Big Gulps instead?…….. MOST students would be embarassed to ask for food assistance and would be able to think of some way they can get food. What happened to “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat?”……….. We are teaching people that it’s ok to  “feel no pain” when applying for welfare, and causing some pain would make abuse less-likely. ……Anyone in Michigan can use a Bridge card at the grocery because no identification is required (another flaw)……………….WE need to go back to commodities and let welfare recipients buy whole foods, not processed – quick foods……………. Bottom line…online applications for students should be non-existent and applications should be made in person for students. NO to FREE FOOD for able-bodied students!!!

  • mhleta

    I was able to return to college mid-life to complete my under-grad degree at Massasoit Community College in Brockton and then UMass Boston, receiving my degree in 2008. In both places the student population seemed to be largely made up of students who were working full or part-time, often while single-parenting. While I like the idea of compensating these students for their study time, I think that being required to swipe into a designated study area in order to be compensated is problematic. Many single parents only are able to study at home after their kids have gone to sleep. Anything else means paying out of pocket for child care, which in most places is more than $10 per hour. There must be some other way to meter student study time while allowing the student the freedom of choice of where they would like to study.

  • Gadfly

    Paying people to study?
    Isn’t that what we called scholarships/fellowships during the stone age?
    The country owes everything to those investments and to the Soviet Union for putting up Sputnik and getting it all started.

    >  I hope we aren’t trying to take ALL the struggle out of life.

    Hey, instead of playing imitation Darwin, let the challenges be in the subject matter. Piling on is a violation.

  • Stone

    Higher Education should be free.  Programs to supply food, jobs, study credits etc are another boondoggle that needn”t exist.  Colleges and professors could be paid the money spent on food stamps, money for study and work stud,  freeing students to participate in class until they pass the course.  Students, unburdened by the time constraints of passing within a certain time frame could work, raise families and do what they do as long as they make some sort of steady progress toward passing the courses in which they choose to enroll.

  • Anonymous

    thanks you for this article….I teach at a community college 8 miles from the Mexican Border- I am sure that hunger exists but I never thought of it…..I will now

  • Drbea123

    First, I can remember taking classes on Sundays at my community college to accomodate  my full time (plus 2 part time jobs) schedule in New York.  By the time I decided to go to college full time, I lost my financial aid (due to administration error) during my last semester of undergrad, forcing me to live out of my car, a 35 cent budget a day, taking cold showers in the gym at 6 in the morning in the cold winter in upstate New York.  When I asked the State for assistance (food stamps) I was told the only assistance would be was if I got pregnant because “college (was) a choice”. I was determined to graduate and no one, not the administrator, the State, was going to tell me I had to wait six more months for the funds to arrive in order for me to complete and graduate college. I tell my story  to my community college students, as they understand how I can relate with what they are going through.

  • Anonymous

    I kept wondering how this adjunct professor could afford to feed his students, when most adjuncts I know are struggling to feed themselves.  At $2000-$4000 a course (with no benefits), it takes a lot of work (and usually several jobs) to make a living wage.  Figure that, at the high end, if you are lucky enough to get three courses a semester (which is a lot of work), that’s $24,000/year plus whatever summer work you can get.  I applaud his commitment to his students’ welfare.

    To the people who are using the oh-so-sophisticated “get a job” argument, may I point out that a) being a full-time student IS a job, b) jobs are hard to come by at the moment, and c) students HAVE jobs. 

    Remember that the average age of a community college student is 28, and 42% of  CC students are the first generation in their family to attend college.  (http://bit.ly/cnNkvI)  So these students are largely adults whose parents probably aren’t able to support them if they wanted to.

    How do you think these students are supporting themselves and their families?  They are already working: 80% of full-time and 87% of part-time community college students have jobs. 

    Beyond that, they are racking up huge student loans, which they will likely be paying off for decades, while the banks and/or the federal government make interest off them.  So if they need a sandwich, for pete’s sake, give the students a sandwich.

  • Claudia Parvanta

    Every time I heard the speaker say “pay students to study,” I thought this is not the best way to frame the idea. As a professor, (albeit at a private university), I even had a negative reaction to it, even though we also feed students every chance we get. As I listened to the story, I was reminded of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and the micro credit program that helps very poor women, for the most part, invest in small livestock to support their families. I think if the concept was presented as “Micro Scholarships,”  and that students could earn up to $1200 in micro scholarship support for studying and achieving good grades (e.g. a 2.7+ GPA), then I think people would be more supportive of this idea. It’s not, as the speaker emphasized, rewarding students to study–something they should be doing anyway–but recognizing that the students with less means must sacrifice their own learning for the demands of running a household. And, these students simply need some compensation for their time, which otherwise will be spent earning income. To provide micro scholarships might help reframe the discussion away from another ‘welfare’ model to something more productive. 
    Claudia Parvanta
    Professor and Chair
    Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences
    University of the Sciences

  • al2551

    admire Professor Sloane’s dedication and desire to help his students
    and I applaud his suggestion of a student food bank but he is
    completely wrong about the work study program. I believe that the
    work study program should be expanded and that students who work
    should get a raise above the minimum wage they receive currently. I
    work in a community college with student workers and for many, it’s
    their first real job. Student workers learn many skills while working
    at my community college and, believe me, they get ample opportunity
    to study during the work day. I would propose to Prof. Sloane that
    there are more than sufficient funds in the federal financial aid
    program to pay for the increase in work study funding. It is my
    experience that many students are poor managers of their financial
    aid monies. A great many students clamor for “their” money
    every term but rarely ever use the excess funds for college. Student
    have personally expressed to me and my fellow co-workers their need
    of financial aid so that they can pay back debts, pay their
    non-college related bills, go on vacation, and in one instance, to
    put a roof on their house. I object that my tax dollars which are
    used to fund the Pell Grant system are instead being used for things
    not directly related to their education. I would propose to Prof.
    Sloane and anyone else that the Pell Grant program be revamped so
    that it pays for every financial aid candidate’s tuition to fund
    their college education and for a decent stipend for the purchase of
    books and nothing more. The excess funds should be returned to the
    government program to assist other students and perhaps expand both
    Pell and Work Study programs so that more students may have the
    opportunity for college and work within the academic environment. As
    an added benefit, an increase in student enrollment would provide job
    security for all involved in post secondary education. With better
    management of the Pell Grant system, we may very well be able to
    provide a solid education and work environment for every student who
    desires it and avoid bankrupting the system.

  • Maggie


    Thank you for
    bringing attention to this important issue. However, I think the language used
    by the reporter reinforces some views about students attending institutions of
    higher education.

    Dr. Sloane
    stated that most community college students are adults. However, Robin several
    times refers to the students as kids.
    Referring to all college students as
    kids continues a misperception that the largest number of college students
    is the traditional age students 18-22 years old and living on campus. As the
    report points out ” 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.”  

  • Vickie_vel

    Did you know in KY that a fulltime student with children working as federal work-study or student worker (18hrs per week) will not be eligible for food stamps or childcare because they do not meet the 20 hrs per week standard.

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