Graduating from college is the first big step a student takes in becoming a full-time professional. The many years of education have built up to this moment. But, for many graduates today, student loan debt is a burden that will follow them long into their future.
Education at Work, or EAW, is facing the issue head-on by giving students an opportunity to learn the professional skills they need to be successful and walk away with little to no debt heading into their careers.
Dave Dougherty had over 20 years of experience in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, including serving as president and CEO of Convergys, a leading BPO provider. With the rise of student debt, he saw an opportunity to leverage the BPO industry to help college students minimize the debt they incur. In 2012, he founded EAW, a nonprofit provider of call center and staffing services that employs college students.
Students are placed in part-time positions in campus EAW centers or at clients’ sites. They work in customer service and in back-office support positions, learning skills that complement their field of study while earning an hourly wage as well as the opportunity to earn up to $5,250 in tuition assistance. The program provides fast-paced and team-oriented environments where students want to learn, be engaged and be challenged.
And it is not only the students who benefit – the program helps companies, too. With a well-educated, enthusiastic team of students, companies can offer their customers a refreshing service experience. The students also help companies overcome the challenge of finding part-time workers who deliver exceptional results with minimal supervision. By linking up with universities and engaging in the program, companies have access to a pool of talent that can skillfully respond to simple to complex customer and technical support needs.
In 2013, EAW, which is based near Cincinnati, sought a loan from JobsOhio to create part-time jobs for 5,000 students and to potentially expand in the state and nationally. With benefits for college students and companies, JobsOhio offered financial support.
The project was unique from JobsOhio’s usual projects, and the usual metrics, including jobs created and capital investment, were not applicable. In order to determine the return on investment to Ohio, JobsOhio offered a grant to EAW and monitored the number of hours that students worked.
EAW has helped students learn and strengthen their skillsets, reduce or completely eliminate their student debt, and open the door for them to kick-start their careers. On average, students employed by EAW graduate with 50 percent less debt than their peers. About 45 percent of them are first-generation college students.
“The tuition assistance I have received from EAW has impacted my family in such a positive way,” said Jayda Klink, a sophomore at UC Blue Ash College, a regional college within the University of Cincinnati. “I am one of seven siblings, so my parents have a lot of children they want to send to college. Working at EAW has really taken a burden off of my parents, and I am going to encourage my siblings to work at EAW when it’s their turn to start their college career.”
EAW has a vision of reducing $1.3 billion of student debt annually by employing 100,000 college students by 2025, and it is already making progress. From 2013 to 2018, the support of JobsOhio has helped EAW provide more than $10 million in wages and tuition assistance to students, many of whom are from underserved populations. The organization’s student success model has grown and evolved, which has allowed EAW to expand to other regions and campuses throughout the U.S.
Before the end of 2018, JobsOhio received a heartfelt thank you from EAW with student impact stories, which can be viewed above.