College like carrot

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Uber gift cards, frozen donuts, free beer, tickets to sporting events, a million dollars or a college scholarship – depending on where you live, one of these prizes could be yours if you choose to get the vaccine. Covid-19. That’s right, in a growing number of states like Ohio, Oregon, and California, residents can earn anywhere from $ 50.00 to $ 1.5 million just to protect their health and the health of those around them. Meanwhile, other states like New York and Colorado are raffling college scholarships for lucky inoculated teens. Individual institutions like Purdue University are even getting into the incentive game with free tuition giveaways.

Will it work? In a year when colleges and universities saw a 4.9% drop in undergraduate enrollment (seven times worse than the drop in the previous year), it’s hard to know for sure. Ohio has seen a 28% increase in vaccinations following the introduction of the “Vax-a-Million Lottery,” which seems to suggest that some incentives will indeed pay off. But is free college education convincing enough to influence behavior?

Business bonus

As businesses across the country face significant labor shortages, they are betting that the allure of tuition-related benefits will motivate job applicants. Some human resources offices have traditionally offered a tuition rebate to workers who wish to obtain diplomas or certificates. Increasingly, however, large employers like Waste Management and JBS USA, desperate for job seekers, are using free college incentives not only for workers, but also for their children. This begs the question: what else can we encourage with the access to education carrot? And what supports must be put in place for these incentives to be effective?

Attractive education

Free college is not a new concept, and neither are targeted scholarships. In fact, the US military has been providing educational benefits through the GI Bill since 1944. But out of necessity, politicians and institutions are getting creative as they forgo tuition fees to achieve specific outcomes. Consider the recent announcement from the University of Massachusetts Amherst about its partnership with the non-profit organization Digital Ready to encourage Boston Public School students to pursue studies in STEM fields. Or the news that Grand Valley State University in Michigan will guarantee free tuition for 8th grade students at a charter school in Detroit. These are just two timely examples of colleges seeking to increase equity and access through targeted scholarships. I asked admissions officials for other ways to harness the power of incentives and here is what they said:

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Sue Willard, Associate Director of Admissions at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Says “Encouraging School Attendance as a Way to Get Scholarships Could Be a Great Way to Increase Student Success and Well-Being , high school graduation rates and university enrollments for many student populations. She adds: “This could help the affordability of colleges, but also their overall academic preparation for the next step by giving them another reason to be present and to value the learning that is done in high schools. Ken Anselment, vice president of enrollment and communications at Lawrence University, goes one step further by suggesting scholarships to increase retention and graduation. He says it could be done “by awarding micro scholarships for taking all the steps you need to take (and doing it on time) to get your degree, like meeting your advisor, declaring your major, and” taking it to the next level. »By registering and completing the prerequisite courses.

Aaron Basko, vice president of enrollment at Sweet Briar College, says, “I would like us to inspire students to take an active role in their financial future and learn good financial habits. This could start by rewarding families for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), even if they don’t know if they will benefit, or encouraging students to open a 401k so that it has the maximum amount of money. time to develop. He adds, “Many students have no real experience in saving, managing debt, or planning for the future.

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Innovative incentives

How else could we take care of our communities with the college carrot? Needless to say, there are other pandemics and epidemics that could benefit from creative incentives. What if drug addicts were rewarded with free college courses for continued sobriety? What about gun buyback programs or the use of scholarships in gang prevention strategies? Perhaps we could tackle the climate crisis by giving free colleges to those who have reduced their carbon footprint. It appears that these and other challenges could be addressed while creating a more educated and engaged society.

Richard Weissbourd is a lecturer and director of the faculty of Making care common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As the lead author of the white paper “Innovation and Justice: Reinventing Selective Colleges,” he proposes that colleges promote service to the community in a similar way. He says, “There are so many reasons why community involvement and service is good for young people and vital for the country right now. I hope colleges find ways to provide scholarships to high school students who are doing sustained and meaningful work in their community. He adds, “I also hope that the colleges encourage their students to do public service for a year and take classes in person or online and offer these students tuition reductions.”

Support scholarships

Access to higher education is an admirable incentive, but without proper guidance, opportunities risk being lost or wasted. Just as lottery winners may need a lawyer and / or financial advisor to help them manage their newfound wealth, scholarship winners need support in finding the right fit for their educational goals. Yet in our country, access to quality advice is incredibly inequitable. This was especially pronounced during the pandemic, as high school counselors were called upon in many ways, tackling everything from food insecurity to abuse to mental health issues.

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Whether we call it a guidance gap, a counselor crisis, a staff shortage, or whatever, the reality is that we need to better support educators in schools who care for and counsel students. If we are to offer the hope of a free college like a carrot, we must empower our schools with resources and programs to expose students to opportunities and help them access. What if, in addition to each recipient of a vaccination scholarship going to college for free, states and institutions also contribute to the recipient’s high school counseling budget? Or maybe companies that attract employees with education benefits should also donate significant funds to public school board offices in the communities where they operate. Perhaps for every student who enlists in the military or enlists in a year of community service, the federal government should pay a percentage of the soldier or volunteer pay to their local public school in their neighborhood. .

Obtaining a college degree is undeniably a huge hurdle for many students. The same goes for filtering out the noise, myths and marketing that dominate the admission experience. If we as a society are to tackle access and equity, labor shortages and stay innovative and competitive on the global stage, then we need to nurture the whole system and create opportunities. for all students and provide the resources to those who support them.

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