Miami University’s community-based campuses in Hamilton and Middletown (Miami University Regionals) have partnered with four area businesses to create a new workforce-education program designed to allow students to earn a college degree debt-free. The program, named Work+, will provide participating Ohio residents with work experience, paid tuition, books, and a possible housing stipend.
Local manufacturing companies Bilstein (Hamilton), Deceuninck (Monroe), and The Fischer Group (Fairfield), along with the Butler County Regional Transit Authority (West Chester), are collaborating with Miami Regionals to launch the program this fall. Program participants will be enrolled students at one of the regional campuses as well as part-time employees of one of the Work+ employers.
Students in the collaborative program will typically work between 20 and 25 hours per week while taking classes. Work+ participants will receive a wage and paid tuition and may pursue any major.
Work+ is the brainchild of Ohio Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township. Coley unveiled the program at a May 30 press conference at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, alongside fellow Ohio Senators Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, Bob Hackett, R- London, and Joe Uecker, R-Loveland, who are among co-sponsors; Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton; Rob Brundrett of the Ohio Manufacturers Association; and Miami University President Gregory Crawford.
“It’s our goal that these students will graduate with degrees and that they are going to be able to graduate with no debt,” said Coley. Students will benefit by having increased awareness of job requirements and career opportunities, while local companies will have greater access to more skilled workers.
Crawford said the Work+ program has been in development for about a year.
“This is a great idea, and when Senator Coley brought it to us, we took off with it. It has just been an amazing partnership,” President Crawford said. “We are grateful to be part of this, certainly as a university, but we’re also grateful to be taking the lead. I think it’s going to be a model template that can propagate throughout Ohio and deliver a great workforce that Ohio needs right now. We’re excited!
“We cannot just deliver great employees with these Miami students at our regional campuses, but they will probably stick with the companies for four years. So, the length of time and the retention of these employees will be fantastic,” Crawford added.
Al Fischer, CEO of The Fischer Group, said Miami’s Work+ program is a great fit for his company’s culture of innovation.
“We look at this as an innovative approach to building a highly capable workforce while providing a debt free solution to higher education. We are excited to coach and enable students to consider all possibilities versus leveraging standard solutions when solving technical and business challenges. We believe their experience will provide lessons for our company and the students as they become part of our business and grow into our future workforce leaders,” Fischer said.
Fabian Schmahl, CEO and president of thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America, describes this program as a “win-win” solution.
“For thyssenkrupp Bilstein, we gain a stable long-term employee and the potential that the student continues to grow with us after graduation. For the student, they gain valuable workforce experience and the opportunity to graduate debt free. We are excited about the launch of this program and know it will affect so many people in a positive way,” Schmahl said.
Cathy Bishop-Clark, associate provost and dean of Miami University Regionals, said academic adviser Kelly Brown has agreed to serve as Work+ interim director for Miami Regionals. McKenna Koewler is working part-time during the summer as program coordinator.
“There are multiple advantages to this program. Employers get more consistency in their entry-level workforce. Program participants learn both technical and soft skills, and they can potentially create a pathway to a career if they perform well,” Bishop-Clark said.
She said the goal is to have a total cohort of 40 participants starting the program this fall, distributed throughout the four companies.