Integrated Colleges: Giving Experience and Reducing Tuition


The cost of attending a college or university is increasing at a pretty rapid rate in the United States. Many schools are scrambling for ways to increase enrollment and decrease costs in order to stay affordable and competitive, especially during the current economic downturn. In 2009-2010, the average cost to attend a four-year public university for was about $14,870 (up 57.5% from 1980-81), while the average cost of a four-year private university was around $32,475 (up 57.3% from 1980-81) (both calcuations done using constant 2008-09 dollars; Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).  With more high school students wanting to attend a place of higher education, not to mention the number of job paths now requiring an undergraduate degree, it is time for colleges to get creative to keep costs low. The schools that keep tuition costs low are more likely to meet and exceed enrollment goals.

In addition, college students are looking for opportunities to get involved both in their communities, but also at their school. With the job market becoming increasingly competitive, college students are beginning to realize that the more ways that can get involved and gain experience, the more they set themselves apart when applying for internships or jobs after graduating. However, many students have a difficult time finding relevant internships during the summer or don’t get to apply their “classroom knowledge” in real-world situations regularly.

One idea I have to solve this problem: Integrated Colleges. By ‘Integrated College’ I mean “any college or university that uses current students to accomplish daily organizational tasks in return for lower tuition and real-world experience.” This idea is similar to the “work study” model that pays students to do on-campus jobs like grounds, lab monitor, etc, but the Integrated College concept takes it one step further. 

An example of the difference can be illustrated using the marketing department (where this example is especially relevant because who better to market the University to prospective students than those who attend and know the school?). Rather than hiring several internal staff or an external third-party to do the marketing for the campus, an Integrated College would use the top students majoring in Marketing and/or Communications to design, implement, and evaluate university marketing efforts. This concept can be taken and extended to most of the other departments at the typical institution of higher education: architects and engineers could design new building and oversee renovations, construction management students would oversee the construction of the projects designed by the architects and engineers, art students could design pieces for the buildings and the Communication Department, and other business students would aid in fundraising, accounting, and long-term planning.

Each department in an Integrated College would be overseen by one or two full-time University employees would provide guidance, oversight, and mentoring for the students as well as serve as the long-term fixture to maintain consistency from year to year with changing college staff. The University would pay the college students for their work, but the combined payment to the students would be lower than the salaries/fees paid to full-time staff or a marketing firm that they are replacing (plus the a percentage of the money paid to the students would be returned to the college to pay for tuition). In addition to getting some income to help pay for tuition, the student workers would get relevant, real-world experience that will help them get a job after they graduate.  Giving students an opportunity to work for their school as undergrad may also increase their commitment to their school so that, when they do get a job, they will be more likely to contribute monetarily to the Integrated College as an alumnus.

The Integrated College model that I am proposing does have two potential downsides: the replacement of current employees with students and potentially lower quality of work. The first downside is unavoidable, but is necessary to make the Integrated College model work. To reduce the impact on the employees and their families, the University can either 1)slowly transition to the Integrated College model or 2)wait to release the employee until they have found another job, that way there is no time without income for the person. The second potential downside will be offset by the presence of the one or two full-time employees that oversee each department and its student workers. Additionally, in most cases, the quality of work has the potential to be just as good or better. For example, in the Marketing Department, student workers would be more in touch with the messages and stories that appeal to the University’s target market as well as the best channels to send the messages through.

In summary, the Integrated College model takes the work study concept that many colleges and universities use and takes it a step further to increase institutional efficiency, reduce costs which will reduce tuition, and provide students with real-world experience while enrolled.

What do you think? Would you be interested in attending an Integrated College if one existed? Is the model feasible? Offer your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments.

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: Bill Strain on Flickr]

About Lawson Hembree
Serving others by building brands. Disciple || Marketer || Entrepreneur || Meatatarian Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

2 Responses to Integrated Colleges: Giving Experience and Reducing Tuition

  1. Woah, that is neat. I would want to be one of the full-time staff who oversees students and mentors them (NOT because I’m pro at mentoring!). That would be cool to work directly with students as they are learning certain processes and textbook knowledge and show them how it directly applies in “real life”. I wonder if there is a way this could be tested or piloted without having to change anything major at a school. I would like to see statistical data (yay ANOVA and t-tests!) on whether or not students are learning more, the productivity of this system, and how much money the school is “saving” to do this. (I say “saving” because they are still spending money and gaining valuable work, but yet it is cheaper than full time people.) Anyways, I like the idea and I would love to see it tested. Now if only we could write a research proposal on what this pilot study/test would look like…

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    It would be interesting to do a study to see how much it would actually save the institution to switch to an Integrated College model. In theory, it would save them a significant amount of money because they wouldn’t have to pay full-time benefits (healthcare, retirement, etc) or increase the salaries over time. Colleges like John Brown University and the College of the Ozarks were founded as “vocational colleges” though they have shifted from that to an extent (though CofO students can still attend tuition free if they work a job on campus). So the concept works, it just needs to be tested to see how the replacement of full-time long-term employees with part-time short-time student workers affects productivity, efficiency, and work quality (which I imagine would be minimal).

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