Cliff Peale reports:
What college student wouldn’t want a $15-an-hour job, asks Dave Dougherty.
Dougherty, the former chief executive officer at Convergys Corp., has formed a new nonprofit group to make that happen.
Called Education at Work, the venture will operate call centers for a client roster that already includes Macy’s and Cincinnati Bell.
Dougherty will pay college students starting at $9 per hour, plus tuition benefits up to $6,000 a year. Students must be taking at least one college class to qualify and the amount depends on their grade point average.
In short, he’s putting profits from the business into the tuition payments. He sees the potential for 5,000 students working in multiple call centers around Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
“That’s putting a meaningful dent in raising the education level in this community and the job skills level in this community,” said Dougherty, who headed the Cincinnati USA Partnership development group for a year ending in March 2012 after leaving Convergys in 2010.
The new company starts operations as an entire generation of college students is carrying crippling debt, now approaching $1 trillion nationally.
In Ohio, seniors graduating in 2010 carried an average $27,713 in debt, No. 7 in the country, while Kentucky students graduated with average debt of $19,375, ranking No. 43, according to the Project on Student Debt.
The strategy to hire college students to staff call centers has been tried before.
At Northern Kentucky University, both Delta Air Lines and Fidelity Investments opened call centers on the Highland Heights campus in the late 1990s, employing hundreds of students at their peak capacity.
But cutbacks in those industries and the national recession took their toll. The Delta call center closed in 2001 and the Fidelity call center closed in 2008.
Education at Work has opened a call center in Norwood, in a building and work stations donated by Cincinnati Bell. It took its first calls in mid-August and has more than 100 students already employed.
Helped by some funding from the SC Ministry Foundation, the College of Mount St. Joseph has invested $500,000.
The next call center will be somewhere near the Mount’s Delhi Township campus, hopefully in 2013, Dougherty said.
He has pitched the concept to other college presidents around the region, including O’dell Owens of Cincinnati State Technical & Community College.
Mount president Tony Aretz said the investment “is another way we are trying to help our students afford a Mount education and lessen their student debt.”
Tuition at the Mount this year is $24,200. Very few students pay full tuition, with an average financial aid package of $17,400, according to the College Board.
For companies seeking call-center services, Dougherty called it a great vealue. He’s charging them $18 per hour.
“It’s still early, but we believe the quality of service by these college students will be superior,” said Tim White, another Convergys veteran who is vice president of business develoment. “We’re basically starting with a smarter population. They know the technology and they’ve been able to get through the training faster.”
Students must go through four weeks of training and must work six months before they become eligible for tuition assistance.
For more information or to apply, students should visit www.education-at-work.org.