As a first-semester freshman, one of the pieces of advice given to me so frequently by older students was that, in college, most of my learning would happen outside the classroom. They weren’t trying to diminish the value of the courses here — at least as far as I could tell — but rather, stress the importance of getting involved on campus.
Three years later, I can confidently say my college experience wouldn’t have been nearly as beneficial — in terms of both personal and intellectual growth — had it not included the many extracurriculars I had the privilege of being involved in. The leadership, writing, critical thinking and interpersonal skills I gained from my extracurricular experiences have been invaluable and have augmented my college experience in ways no traditional course could have.
Additionally, these experiences may have opened academic opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I couldn’t have majored in public policy had I not been admitted into the Ford School of Public Policy — a selective program which seeks “students with strong transcripts … who are also engaged in serious ways with campus organizations, community service, political organizations, and leadership activities,” according to the Ford School website.
However, campus involvement is expensive. Without my parents’ financial support, I wouldn’t have been able to spend the bulk of my free time on extracurricular activities. Instead, I would’ve needed to work part-time to help pay for my tuition and general living costs at college.
During the two semesters I worked as a senior editor at the Daily, I probably spent a rough average of 20 hours per week on Daily-related activities. Assuming I could’ve found a job that would’ve paid me $10 an hour, 20 hours a week for both semesters, my senior editor position cost me around $6,000 in forgone income. While the Daily does provide a stipend that helps to partially offset this opportunity cost, the vast majority of campus organizations don’t.
In an interview with the Daily, LSA senior David Schafer, Central Student Government president, said that campus leadership is expensive primarily because it requires students to sacrifice opportunities for paid work.
“Some organizations require their members to pay dues, but all necessitate that leaders dedicate large amounts of time without the promise of pay or compensation,” Schafer said.
A 2015 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study found that 70 to 80 percent of Americans enrolled in post-secondary classes work during the academic year. Additionally, roughly 40 percent of undergraduate and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week while enrolled in classes. It’s difficult to fathom that students working 30 hours or more per week could devote considerable time to extracurricular activities.
That’s why the University of Michigan’s new Leadership Engagement Scholarship is so essential. The Leadership Engagement Scholarship will award $500 to $2,500 to 10 to 15 emerging and established campus leaders with financial need each year. The program was designed to reduce the considerable opportunity costs of campus involvement, as well as establish a mentorship network of scholarship recipients.
According to LSA senior Micah Griggs, CSG Vice President, the inspiration for the scholarship program came from the many students she believes were interested in participating in the CSG executive council, but couldn’t afford to spend the required amount of time on a non-paid, non-academic activity.
“A lot of people were applying to CSG executive team and were requesting if it was paid or not and it isn’t at all,” Griggs told the Daily. “That really drew a barrier for a lot of applicants for our executive team because they couldn’t afford to give up a paying job.”
The idea that there is a cost barrier to CSG participation is supported by data from an internal CSG survey, which found that 75 percent of CSG members come from households earning at least $100,000 annually. Opening those opportunities to a more diverse group of students would certainly beget stronger representation — and ideally an influx of new ideas — from individuals facing cost barriers to campus leadership.
Only roughly one out of every eight University students comes from a low-income family. Twenty-one of the top 25 public universities in the United States have a higher proportion of students from families earning less than $50,000 annually than the University of Michigan. Perhaps, if highlighted in prospective student recruiting efforts, the new Leadership Engagement Scholarship could help strengthen income diversity at the University.
However, offering competitive scholarships to a limited number of students seems unlikely to remove the barrier to campus engagement that many students face. The number of students working in paid positions is correlated with the rising cost of college tuition. More widespread and sustainable solutions to this problem would address root causes of the increasing price of higher education. Assuming these costs are here to stay –– at least in the near term –– programs like the Leadership Engagement Scholarship are likely the best alternative.
Victoria Noble can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.