POINT LOOKOUT – When Darcy Bright graduates from college this May, she will be debt free and not a penny poorer for it. But that doesn't make her unique at College of the Ozarks; it's part of the mission of the school.
Instead of paying tuition, every student works on campus 15 hours a week during the semester and two 40-hour weeks every school year, often during breaks. The rest of the cost of tuition is paid for through a combination of scholarships from the college and federal and state aid.
With all of the news about students going into debt to go to college and then not being able to find work using their degree, talking to students in Missouri who value a college education but who were able to avoid paying for it seemed especially relevant.
Would they still be going to college if they had to pay tuition? Were they concerned about finding jobs after graduation? I sat down with five members of the college's student senate to find out. Those students are:
- Darcy Bright, 22, grew up on a dairy farm near Kirksville in Bucklin. She's a hotel restaurant management major and the student body president.
- Ana Boyd, 21, grew up in the Branson area and transferred to College of the Ozarks after a semester at Truman State. She's an elementary education major.
- Tatiana Andrade, 20, is an international student from Colombia. She's an international business major.
- Alex Harris, 19, is the son of a pastor from Berryville, Ark. He is a theater major who wants to become a youth pastor who incorporates drama into his ministry.
- Kenny Lowe, 19, is from Seymour and is studying secondary education. He began announcing games at his high school when he was sixteen and hopes to be involved in sports wherever he teaches in the future.
The students all agreed that the draw of a free education was a major factor in their decision to come to College of the Ozarks. But equally important to them was the Christian education they would be receiving. They also felt the school's reputation for teaching responsibility and hard work would help them find a job after graduating.
Harris has already been hired for a summer job because he was a student at the college. "My first semester here, I applied for a temporary job with a Walgreens back at home, it was over the summer. And at the interview, he asked me, there was about 250 applicants, and he asked me, 'Do you go to college?' And I said, 'Yes, I go to C of O.' And he said, 'OK, you're hired. Just give me your information.'"
Boyd, who wants to teach middle school, said the job market is difficult for teachers now, but that just means you have to fill out more applications and take more tests to be certified other places.
"Here is a benefit because we actually have to work — you can't be lazy," Boyd said. "They will call you on it. And it's happened before. It's all about hard work and I think if we continue that whenever we leave C of O, that might bring about a new wave of youth who actually work hard in what they do."
All of this optimism that hard work will pay off in finding a job really makes me want to check in with them again in five years, once they've entered the workforce. But the students are aware of the tough economy, and know that things don't always come easy.
"Sometimes for your hard work, you don't see immediate results," Bright said. "But I do think, you know, God does honor the people who work for what he has called them to do."
This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.