Program allows students to work for funds

By Markos Moulitsas

Students attempting to reduce their dependence on student loans will soon have another option available to them.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) has announced a new pilot program, the “Alternative Student Service Education Trust” (ASSET), that will enable students to work for tax-exempt or non-profit organizations in cooperative education or internship positions in exchange for funds from ISAC.

The pilot program will be conducted at NIU, Bradley University, the College of DuPage, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Illinois State University. NIU and the others were chosen since each already has a cooperative education program in place.

Cooperative education allows students practical job experience by allowing them to work in career-relevant positions with a participating employer.

Unlike other programs that allow students to pay off their student loans through community service, ASSET will combine payment for work done with the process of cooperative education or internships. By doing this, the program hopes to reduce student dependence on loans.

The ASSET program is designed to complement the national community service program currently being considered by President Clinton and Congress.

Students will be paid between $7 and $8 an hour in the form of tuition credits and fees accounts to help with education costs. There also will be an option available to exchange a portion of the tuition credit into cash payments equal to the minimum wage for hours worked.

Participating organizations will not have to contribute any of the wages, but they will evaluate the students performance, providing feedback to the university on the students’ progress toward accomplishment of their career and academic goals.

The total amount of money a student will be able to earn while participating in this program still is unclear. According to Douglas Davis, director of the cooperative education program, there will be several factors involved in the final amount available to participating students.

Davis said that one of those factors will be the amount of hours the participating organization will give the student. “You have to understand that not every agency we’re dealing with is going to have a full-time position” available to participating students.

Other contributing factors include the amount of students participating in the program, amount of hours they work and the pay scale of the participating organization. “It’s sort of a flexible thing,” Davis said, noting that many details have yet to be worked out.

The program will help most of those students geared toward mental health, gerontology and other fields of that nature.

Davis said, “One of the arguments I used (in getting the program approved) was that we have a number of students who are interested in this kind of a career, and most of these agencies are funded through United Way or governmental agencies such as the county or the city, and there’s never enough resources … for these agencies to pay (students). This in effect blocks out a whole group of students from getting experience in their field. So … when the money became available, it was restricted to non-profit agencies.”

The program will not become operational until fall 1994. The $120,000 thus far awarded probably will collect interest until next year, Davis said.

Still, students shouldn’t wait until next year if they are interested in participating in ASSET. They should enroll in the cooperative education program now, since students already in the system will have first shot at being accepted.

Davis is very pleased the program has been approved and will be in place. “I wrote a (similar) grant one time and submitted it to the state agency for this very purpose, and they turned it down mainly because they wanted the (non-profit and community) agencies to pay 20 percent of the cost of the student salary … and a lot of these agencies don’t have that kind of money.”

If interested in further information, contact NIU Cooperative Education/Internship program, Holmes Student Center, Room 232 (the old Student Health Services location) at 753-7138.

“You have to understand that not every agency we’re dealing with is going to have a full-time position. It’s sort of a flexible thing,”

Douglas Davis, director of cooperative education program