Work+ Program inspires new state legislation, becomes a model for Ohio

What began as a conversation several years ago between Miami University President Greg Crawford and Ohio Sen. William Coley (R-Butler County) is now new state legislation.

On Oct. 1, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 614 requiring the Chancellor of Higher Education Randy Gardner to create a template for the Work+ Program for use by other higher education institutions interested in starting a program in their region of Ohio.

Updates regarding the Work+ Program and the new legislation were the topics during a virtual roundtable held Wednesday, Oct. 28, hosted by Miami.

Crawford explained that the Work+ Program at Miami University Regionals was inspired by a conversation with Senator Coley, and is based on the Metropolitan College model in Louisville, Kentucky.

Similar to the Metropolitan College program, work+ allows students to pursue a degree and work approximately 24 hours a week. Employers pay each student’s tuition and general fees in addition to a salary of approximately $12 per hour, allowing them to graduate with no debt.

Miami’s program is positioned as a wrap-around service for business. Employers select who they hire and then refer them to the program. Jobs include transport, social media, data entry, production line and nursing assistant (STNA). Participants may choose any major at Miami University Regionals and earn a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

“Work+ is an example of the positive impact that higher education can have on the local economy. It is an example of how assisting local businesses to be successful results in success for students and higher education,” Crawford said.

Miami’s program began in the fall of 2019 with four employer partners and 33 students. The first year saw an 88 percent completion rate among students, with a grade point average of 3.43.
“A subtle but distinguishing difference between our program and Co-ops and internships is that those participants are solely students getting an out-of-class experience. Our participants are workers who are getting an out-of-work experience,” said Randy Thomas, vice president of Miami's office for advancing strategy, partnerships, institutional relations, and economy (ASPIRE). 

In 2020, one more employer was added. Despite challenges employers faced due to the pandemic, eight new openings were filled this year.
“Our employers need workers. We are taking people at the prime of their work life, and we are getting them off the bench from just studying to participate in the labor force as well as get their degrees,” said Coley.
One employer who signed on to the program immediately was Al Fischer, owner of The Fischer Group.

“We are a growing company, and to grow, we have to grow people in an innovative way,” he said.
Fischer values the students for their energy, and the support Miami brings to them.
Several new employers who were confirmed to participate beginning fall 2020 are still interested and plan to reevaluate needs for spring 2021: Great Miami Valley YMCA, Cohen Recycling and ODW Logistics.
Miami Regionals Dean Cathy Bishop-Clark said, “Students are learning the lesson that hard work pays off. No one intended to promote these students, but some are being promoted.”

Second-year small business management major Jeremiah Watene, who is working at The Fischer Group, said he doesn’t feel like “just a contract worker.” He continues to learn new responsibilities and is learning leadership skills.

“They believe in me and are investing in my future,” said Watene of Fischer and Amanda Engle, vice president for the company.

He also said Miami’s work+ team makes sure he is meeting his goals by monitoring his course and work-life balance. “They show compassion and empathy.”

Chancellor Gardner said this program is a celebration of what we can do right in Ohio and higher education.

"The theme for this program is that the status quo isn’t good enough. That’s what I think about this program — a way to change the way we deliver higher education opportunities, working with employers in really intentional ways,” he said.

“Thank you for Miami for knowing that the status quo is not enough and to find new ways to work with employers to truly elevate and enhance Ohio’s economy.”