News / USA

Students Earn Debt-Free College Degree

Berea College allows students to work-study their way to a university degree

Berea College students pay for their education by working at jobs provided by the college while they study to earn their degrees.
Berea College students pay for their education by working at jobs provided by the college while they study to earn their degrees.

Multimedia

Audio
Mike Osborne

The Friday afternoon computer science class at Berea College looks much like similar classes on campuses all over America. But there’s one big difference. While a four-year undergraduate degree at Berea costs nearly $100,000, these students will never see a bill for tuition.

The average American takes out $24,000 in student loans to pay for their university education. Of those loans, about 14 percent slide into default. However, at this college in the small town of Berea, Kentucky, graduates rarely have to cope with that kind of crushing student debt.

Berea students pay for their education - as they study - by working at jobs provided by the college. Like most students, senior Jane Tonello works about 10 hours a week between classes. The school taught her to weave cloth that’s later sold to tourists in college stores. As a result, Tonello will soon graduate debt free.

Jane Tonella, who hopes to be a doctor, learned how to weave on a traditional loom to earn her tuition at Berea College.
Jane Tonella, who hopes to be a doctor, learned how to weave on a traditional loom to earn her tuition at Berea College.

"It’s a very good feeling to know that at least I’ll have a fresh start financially when I get out of school," says Tonello, "which is very, very nice because there aren’t too many people who can say that."

She hopes to be a doctor and plans to start medical school later this year. While weaving cloth on a primitive loom may not seem relevant to a career in medicine, Tonello says the work has taught her useful skills.

"A large portion of being a doctor is dealing with people and developing people skills, and also time management skills, and learning new things. It’s really not so different."

It’s exactly those kinds of skills that today’s employers are looking for, according to David Tipton, dean of Labor at Berea.

"The student’s ability to work in teams, to have initiative, to be accountable, to have attendance, show up on time - those type of things that really employers are looking at, those types of soft skills that anybody working anywhere would need to have to be able to be a good employee."

When Berea College was founded in the 1850s, most Kentucky residents were subsistence farmers. The work/study program provided a way for penniless students to pay for a college education. For today’s more affluent students, the program serves a different purpose.

The first students at Berea were children of poor farmers, who could not afford to pay for a college education.
The first students at Berea were children of poor farmers, who could not afford to pay for a college education.

"It seems that now-a-days, a lot of times students have never worked and so it is a new experience for some of them," says Tipton. "A lot of them you’re trying to train from the very beginning on what it means to work."

Students are initially assigned work, ranging from grounds maintenance to counter sales in the student center. They eventually get to choose a job from more than 100 different positions, including skilled crafts like weaving and woodworking.

Berea is one of only seven so-called "work" colleges in America, but that may change. Dean Tipton says more schools are expressing an interest in Berea’s holistic approach to education.

"When you’re talking about educating the whole person, you’re talking about educating what we call the head - the academics; the hand - the labor; and the heart - the service or the spiritual element of the individual."

Tonella says her work hours do bring balance to life. She finds the weaving to be a welcome distraction from her medical studies. "I’m very happy to be able to have something that kind of balances out the scientific side and the creative side. And so my job is kind of like my happy time where I don’t have to think so hard."

America’s institutions of higher learning might benefit from Berea’s example. A recent study by prestigious Georgetown University says American colleges are not doing a good job of teaching students the kind of practical work skills the nation’s businesses will demand in the future.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs