Would You Work the Overnight Shift In Exchange for Free Tuition?

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Let’s say someone offered you the following deal: work for me, doing hard physical labor on the overnight shift, and I’ll pay your tuition so you can go to school during the day.

Would you take the deal? If you did, you might have a life like the one The Atlantic describes:

One day last week, for instance, [Alexis McLin] attended a lab from 3 p.m. to 6:45, went to dinner with her mother, and then at midnight went in to work at UPS, where she sorts packages from midnight to 4:30 a.m.

McLin, 21, is training to be a teacher, and so after she got off work and had some breakfast, she drove to an elementary school at 7:40 a.m and observed classes for four hours. That afternoon she attended a parent-teacher conference, capping off more than 24 hours straight of work and school with no sleep.

College students are known for pulling occasional all-nighters, but the Metropolitan College program requires consistent, regular overnight shift work, under the assumption that students will be as productive sorting packages at 4 a.m. as they will be completing their chemistry homework at 4 p.m. (Metropolitan College is not actually a college; it’s a program that helps students get free tuition at various Kentucky schools while working for UPS. While enrolled, the city pays half of their tuition and UPS pays the other half.)

For some students, this schedule works and allows them to complete a college education. For others, as The Atlantic notes, the time crunch is unsustainable:

[Ilya Lyalin] had to quit the UPS job after he decided to study engineering. The classes and homework required to study calculus and physics required Lyalin’s full brain power, and he found it was all but impossible to have the capacity to do the course work on no sleep. He did it for one semester, and it was hell. He’d work until five a.m. and then sleep until calculus class at 9 a.m., and be up for the rest of the day studying and working. The worst was every Tuesday when there would be a calculus test at 8 a.m. His GPA began to tumble.

“It was two hours of sleep every night for the whole semester,” he said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

In addition to the tuition benefit, students get paid $10/hr for working at UPS. But there’s also a catch: if they drop out of the Metropolitan College program, they have to repay UPS for the cost of their tuition. This appears to be on a per-semester contract basis, thankfully; dropping out senior year does not mean repaying three or four years of tuition, just the cost of the semester in which the drop occurred.

It’s also worth noting that Metropolitan College was created, in part, as The Atlantic writes, because nobody wanted to take these overnight UPS shift jobs:

UPS wasn’t paying people enough to stay in part-time jobs, so it got Louisville to pitch in a subsidy to make those jobs attractive to low-income people who wanted to go to college.

This is the sort of program that sounds good and exploitative at the same time. Yes, it’s great that UPS is offering students the chance to get a free college education. Yes, UPS is doing this in part because it has a lot of jobs that nobody wants to do. Yes, UPS is banking on students taking these jobs because they have no better options.

What do you think? And would you have taken an opportunity like this if it were offered to you?

Photo credit: Stephen Jones

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