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Regional campuses help students afford college with Work+ program

A typical week for Sydney Glynn, a sophomore early childhood education major at Miami University’s Middletown campus, involves balancing early morning classes and working part-time as an assistant preschool teacher at the Atrium Family YMCA through the university’s Work+ program.

Work+ is a program at Miami’s regional campuses designed to help students get an affordable college degree, earn professional workplace experience and stand out to future employers. It partners with local employers to hire students for entry-level positions. 

Students make a one-year commitment to the employer, and in return, the employer pays for the student's tuition for fall and spring semester, plus an hourly wage.

Some employers partnering with the program include Butler County Regional Transit Authority, Community First Solutions, The Fischer Group, Thyssenkrupp Bilstein, Worthington Industries and Fastest Labs.

Ekaterina Gay, regional director of the Work+ program, said the program was desgined to benefit three parties: the students, the employers and the university.

“The Work+ program is beneficial for many stakeholders involved in this partnership, so we consider it a win-win-win for many different constituents,” Gay said.

The program allows employers to fill entry-level positions that have high turnover rates with long-term employees, and it also benefits the university by increasing student retention and providing affordable education to students considering Miami.

The Work+ program began in the fall of 2019 and currently includes 25 students. 

Glynn joined Work+ with the hopes of graduating debt-free. 

A year later, she’s getting paid to go to college with the help of a federal grant, while also completing her required fieldwork for the Department of Education through the YMCA, and earning her Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential free of charge through the program.

“When I heard about the Work+ program, I didn’t think there would be any jobs I’d particularly be interested in, but I was just going to suck it up and do it because they paid for my school,” Glynn said. “But I was really excited when I saw a preschool position there because that’s like the closest I can get to teaching without having my degree.”

In October 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 614 which required a template for the Work+ program so other higher education institutions could start similar programs in their regions. Gay said Miami and the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) were currently discussing what that template will look like and what some of the requirements will be.

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Brenden Payne is a junior middle childhood math and science education major at the Middletown campus. Like Glynn, he joined the program to make college more affordable.

“It sounded like something too good to be true,” Payne said. “And as a guy who likes to work all the time, working for a company that will pay for your college really saves you a lot of time and money.”

Although Payne is an education major, he works at Thyssenkrupp Bilstein, where he manufactures shock absorbers.

“It is not anything like what I was going to school for, but I ended up learning a lot of stuff about real life like working in a factory, what to use certain things for, when to put a coating on a machine, adding up measurements on tubes,” Payne said. “It really just helped me a lot to get a perspective of the world.”

The Work+ program is currently only offered at the regional campuses, and Gay said she couldn't speak for whether it would ever establish itself in Oxford. However, she said the program is constantly improving with hopes of expanding at the regional campuses.

“The idea is definitely to expand to include and enroll more employers and more students in the program,” Gay said. “We’re also looking at not only expanding locally but across the state of Ohio and across the United States with our online degrees we offer.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Ekaterina Gay was unsure whether the Work+ program would ever be expanded to Oxford. This has been updated to reflect that Gay works exclusively at the regional campuses and cannot speak for the Oxford campus.