College of the Ozarks: A Role Model for Transforming Higher Education in America
October 6, 2017
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Families and students across the country struggle daily to afford college tuition. Often, they are left with two options: choose a less competitive school or absorb tremendous debt.
At the same time, state legislatures nationwide grapple with ways to make higher education more attainable for their residents. For lawmakers, that usually means raising taxes or running deficits.
These are terrible choices – and unnecessary ones.
For more than half of a century, College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, has been offering students no-cost, debt-free four-year college degrees by employing a model that any state could emulate.
The private Christian college began as a high school in 1906, became a junior college in 1956, and finally elevated to a full four-year institution in 1965. Today it offers students an excellent education in exchange for work.
I first visited College of the Ozarks in April of 2009 when I gave a speech at its Citizenship Forum. I was profoundly moved by the sincerity, diligence, and work ethic of both the students and faculty. I was delighted when they invited me back in November 2016 for another forum.
Students at College of the Ozarks earn – I mean actually earn – their educations by working in one of the more than 100 jobs offered to students on the 1,000-acre campus. For example, the college’s Keeter Center, which serves as a dining hall, meeting center, and hotel for guests, is staffed by more than 350 students. These students do everything from milking cows before breakfast to attending to guests at dinner. They are so successful, TripAdvisor named the on-campus facility a Top Small Hotel in the U.S. for 2017. This unique model is applied across nearly every aspect of the campus.
The work the students do on campus helps to greatly reduce the overhead of running the college, which helps the college offset the cost of providing students with an incredibly high-quality education. The remainder of student tuition is covered by scholarships and grants.
Once they graduate, these students have a first-rate education, real working experience, and zero debt.
States should specifically study this college for two key reasons.
First, 90 percent of College of the Ozarks students must show economic need prior to being admitted.
Second, U.S. News & World Report has recognized College of the Ozarks on its Best Colleges list since 1989, most recently ranking the school #1 in Most Innovative Schools and Best Value Schools for Regional Colleges in the Midwest, #4 for Best Undergraduate Teaching in Regional Colleges in the Midwest, and #5 overall for Regional Colleges in the Midwest.
Of its many accolades, the #1 Most Innovative Schools ranking is most unique because it was determined differently than the other designations.
U.S. News asked top college officials from across the system to nominate up to 10 schools that were “making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, or facilities.” Based on the answers of all those college presidents, admissions deans, and provosts, College of the Ozarks topped the list for Regional Colleges in the Midwest. That peer consensus shows you that there is something very special happening.
These designations are especially important to states because innovation and value are vital to unlocking high-quality, affordable education.
Imagine if states applied this model to public colleges and universities. Higher education would immediately be in reach for virtually every student. Students would graduate with both academic and professional skills – and they would be debt-free.
Think of the impact on the economy if these newly graduated young working professionals were saving money instead of servicing debt. Also think of the impact it would have on lower-income families, who otherwise see no hope of sending their children to college.
College of the Ozarks represents an enormous opportunity for states across the nation to implement a better model for the future of higher education.
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