Rhodes College Student Associates Earn While They Learn: College Provides Funding for 100 Students Through Innovative Program

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Publication Date: 7/21/2008

Families with kids in college this fall face not only tuition bills, but also higher fuel and food costs. To help ease the financial burden for the families of its enrolled students, Rhodes College in Memphis has responded with a variety of approaches including the Rhodes Student Associates Program (RSAP) an innovative program that offers students the chance to work in jobs that reinforce their classroom learning and earn up to $4,500 a year.

Daniel Jacobs ’09 works as a project manager on Crossroads to Freedom, a digital archive of the Memphis civil rights movement being assembled by Rhodes. “I wouldn’t have expected this level of interest and responsibility from a college job,” he says. “It’s also nice to be making significantly more than minimum wage—enough, in fact, to pay the rent on my off-campus apartment. My parents will have to begin paying for my brother’s education next year and because of my RSAP position they won’t have to take out another loan.”

Bryan Hearn ’09, who works as a writer in the communications office, has also enjoyed his experience. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to contribute to the college in ways I never thought a student could," Hearn says.  "In addition, I′ve also been able to lower the cost of my own college education." There are other benefits as well, he points out. "A big plus of the program is its convenience," Hearn says. "I don’t have to drive to get to work.  I don’t have to spend money on gas.  I can walk straight from class to my job."

The Rhodes Student Associates Program creates on-campus jobs but that’s where the similarity to a work-study program ends. Rather than being supported by federal money, the jobs are supported by the college. Originally funded by a grant that ended in 2007 it has been continued with the on-going support of the college because of its tremendous benefits to both students and the institution. This fall 100 students will be participating as Rhodes Student Associates working in most academic departments and administrative offices.

Work is proposed and guided by professors or staff members to ensure that it is professional-level and relates directly to each student’s area of study or desired career.   Students must maintain at least a 2.75 GPA to participate.

Because the Rhodes jobs are academically integrated, students can justify working more hours than they might in a work-study job.  While work-study students typically receive minimum wage or a bit more for entering computer data or stuffing envelopes for mass mailings, RSAP students are paid $10 to $12 an hour to work in jobs that advance their learning.

 “We are providing first-class internships and research opportunities that develop knowledge and skills, enhancing connections to first-class learning in our classrooms,”  says President William E. Troutt.  “For RSAP students, Rhodes is certainly more affordable. Our goal is to remove cost as the primary determining factor in a student’s decision to attend Rhodes.” 

More than 80 percent of Rhodes students receive some form of financial aid, and the average aid package for students with demonstrated need is more than $25,000. Nearly half of the Class of 2011 received four-year competitive scholarships, fellowships and awards.

Academic and administrative departments that employ RSAP students must propose work that will enhance students’ learning and career goals. In return, they get work done that is important to the college and pay less than it would cost to retain a professional employee. Bob Johnson, vice president for student and information services, estimates that the program saves the college more than $500,000 a year.

“Within the last two years we have completely revamped the college’s Web site, moving to a format that delivers constantly changing news and profiles,” says Daney Kepple, director of communications. “We have also expanded the online version of the alumni magazine. Our student writers have become outstanding at their craft and deliver a perspective that is appealing to prospective students. We couldn’t possibly do what we do without our student associates.”

It works well for students, too. Laura Blanton, who obtained an RSAP position in 2004-05 as an assistant to the editor of the college’s alumni magazine, was hired right after graduation as managing editor of a regional lifestyle magazine. “I can’t imagine that they would have hired me for this position without my great hands-on experience,” she says.

As word of the program spreads through higher education, other schools have taken notice of the Rhodes College model. Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, will soon become the nation’s second school to implement a Student Associate Program and Johnson says he has been approached by several liberal arts colleges and large universities that asked for information about the program.