In late November of 1997, Louisville, Jefferson County, and the Common- wealth of Kentucky were pulling out all the stops to entice United Parcel Service to invest $860 million in its Louisville air hub.
That investment would make Louisville the heart of the giant package handling company's international operations. It would also create, according to UPS, an immediate impact of as many as 6,000 new UPS jobs and an estimated 8,000 spin-off jobs by 2005, with an annual payroll of more than $470 million, as well as long-term positive effects for the local economy.
It was an opportunity that state and local leaders did not want to let pass. But there was one major problem they did not know how to overcome.
In the Louisville metropolitan area, a declining population of young adults combined with a healthy economy had caused the local labor market to tighten, creating concern at UPS that there would not be enough qualified workers to fill all of the positions needed to run the new hub. The issue had the potential to take Louisville out of the running for the UPS investment.
In response, Kentucky Governor Paul Patton met with the presidents of three area higher education institutions-the University of Louisville, Jefferson Community College, and Jefferson Technical College (formerly Kentucky Tech)-and challenged them to develop a proposal to meet the workforce needs of UPS. The presidents assembled a task force of faculty and administrators from all three institutions to address the problem. They delivered a proposal to the governor's office on Christmas Eve. Over the next few months, the proposal was shared with city, county, and state leaders, as well as UPS management, and was refined until it was acceptable to everyone involved. U of L and President John Shumaker received much of the credit for leading the effort and volunteering U of L staff time and expertise to finalize the proposal.
On March 4, 1998, UPS announced that "Hub 2000" would be located in Louisville. At the same time, UPS, the state, and the three schools announced-as a result of the proposal-the formation of a new higher-education program that would provide UPS with a steady source of part-time employees and offer those workers paid tuition at U of L, JCC, or Jefferson Tech. Metropolitan College was born.
A new concept in higher education
Class schedules and student services revolve around the hours of the night shift at UPS. Most students take classes between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., and work 15-20 hours per week at UPS between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Most UPS positions are in package handling, although there are a few administrative and data entry positions. Workers earn $8.50 per hour starting pay, health benefits, paid vacations, and 401K plan participation.
The development of Metropolitan College was a strong determining factor in UPS' decision to invest in the Louisville air hub, says John Kinney, Metropolitan College director for UPS. "It was a major consideration," he says. "Our attention was drawn to larger cities with the potential to produce more applicants. By comparison, Louisville is a smaller area with little population growth. When we raised wages and benefits here to attract applicants, other employers would follow. You generally don't see those wage and benefit pressures in larger cities.
"This program made the difference for us. Metropolitan College adds value to a UPS job that other companies can't match." According to U of L Provost Carol Garrison, the program is a strong example of how institutions of higher education can play a positive role in the economic growth of a community.
"We've created a unique situation," says Garrison. "This program supports students while meeting the workforce needs of UPS. As a metropolitan university, U of L is committed to the economic development of the region. We're striving to make educational opportunities available to prepare people for the kinds of professional roles that are needed. We are also committed to reaching out to underserved and minority populations, so this program is a natural fit with our urban mission."
The program is also unique in the ways the three educational institutions have been able to work together and break down barriers, Garrison says. While there were challenges that arose in implementing the program, she says, there was no doubt that they could be overcome.
"From the beginning, the attitude was that we're going to do this, and it was just a matter of figuring out how to make it work," Garrison says. "Everyone went to great lengths to be flexible and overcome issues. It's a very effective partnership."
A student-centered program
Student workers receive full tuition at one of the participating schools until they earn a degree, as long as they pass their courses and remain employees in good standing. UPS pays 50 percent of the tuition, and the students apply for financial aid to cover the remainder. Costs not covered by financial aid are paid by Metropolitan College from state grant funds. Students are responsible for their books and living expenses.
Dan Ash '82A, '88G, acting executive director of Metropolitan College, says there has been a tremendous response from people interested in the program.
"It's getting harder for people to pull together school, work, and personal responsibilities and still have some balance in their lives," says Ash. "This program is not for everyone, but it's a very doable way to earn a degree. Many people I've talked to didn't know of any way they could achieve their dreams of higher education. It's a profound thing to be able to offer this opportunity to people who really want to improve their lives."
As of October, 1,000 students had joined the program, 800 of whom are attending fall classes. The other 200 plan to enroll in the spring, Ash says.
Metropolitan College recruiters and UPS staff have been seeking student workers from a variety of sources. One major source has been local high schools. Recruiters have held information sessions at more than a dozen schools in Jefferson County, and in surrounding towns such as Shelbyville and Elizabethtown. They've also worked with the Urban League of Louisville to spread word of the program throughout the community.
"We've been moving at the speed of light," says Metropolitan College recruiter George Miller. "When I came on board in June, administrative processes such as admissions and registration had not been completely worked out. We've worked with the academic institutions on those issues and there's been a lot of teamwork between our office, the three schools, and UPS. It's been challenging but also rewarding."
Some students have had work experience at UPS during high school through the School to Work program, and are moving directly into Metropolitan College after graduation. Ryan Bigham, a 1998 graduate of Pleasure Ridge Park High School, works as a UPS package handler and is studying physical therapy at U of L.
"I wanted to go to college this year but I wasn't able to apply for financial aid in time," says Bigham. "I couldn't find any other way to pay the tuition, and I thought I would have to wait until next semester. When I first heard about this program, I didn't believe it. It sounded too good to be true, but I'm really glad it is. It's a great opportunity."
"Traditionally, business and education do not travel the same paths with the same goals," he explains. "When a company engages in a program with a university, it can be viewed as self-serving or intrusive, and we didn't want that to happen with this program. So we came to an agreement with the schools early on that we won't tell them how or what to teach and they won't tell us how to fly airplanes."
Maintaining the program's academic integrity was a requirement for all parties involved, says Ash. He sees his role as executive director to continually balance the program's goals to make sure it is meeting the needs of UPS and the students, while maintaining high academic standards.
"Business and education are great partners, and this program is a model of how they can work together to benefit everyone involved," he says. "We're building stronger relationships for these institutions-the schools, UPS, and state government-and that's good for Kentucky."
In fact, the academic programs of Metropolitan College are those offered through the regular programs of the three schools. Course requirements are the same, and most courses will be taught by regular, full-time faculty. The difference is that Metropolitan College classes are offered at more convenient times for students working the night shift.
Students may choose from any of the more than 200 programs offered by the three schools, but certain programs are being offered specifically for Metropolitan College, with evening classes. U of L offers bachelor's degrees in engineering science, business, communications, liberal studies, justice administration, and occupational training and development. JCC offers associate degrees in six different program areas, and Jefferson Tech offers seven certificate and diploma programs.
Metropolitan College provides free skill level assessment for potential students in English, reading, and math, and recommends an appropriate academic program for each student. Those programs include GED preparation and basic skills enhancement for students who do not have a high school diploma or need additional preparation for college-level courses.
Some people might look at Dan Ash '82A, '88G right now and think, "better him than me."
His position could be described as being stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with a couple more rocks thrown in just to make things interesting. Ash, on leave from Jefferson Community College to serve as acting executive director of Metropolitan College, is right smack in the middle of four entities that are not known for mixing well together-higher education, big business, and local and state government. And he is loving every minute of it.
"My role is to remove obstacles and maximize success for students, and to make sure we have collaboration between all of the institutions involved," he says. "I try to be sensitive to the autonomy of each institution but also find every means possible to help them combine procedures in ways that help students."
Ash, a professor of psychology at JCC, says working with Metropolitan College has been a "participatory experience" with people from all of the institutions contributing to the program's success. The experience has also had a personal significance for him.
"I get great fulfillment from working with students to help them achieve their goals," he says. "I've always loved academics, but I've also experienced frustration-it took me 14 years to get my bachelor's degree while working full-time. So this program really spoke to me. I thought, 'If this program had been there when I was in college, I would definitely have taken advantage of it.' Working with Metropolitan College is the right fit for me."
"We're developing retention strategies to make sure we're prepared to assist students with any challenges they face throughout the semester," says Miller. "We want to retain employees for UPS and support them as students so they can complete their programs."
It is not yet clear how many program slots will be available each semester, as availability will fluctuate based on retention and UPS staffing needs. However, it is expected that about 2,200 people will be hired through Metropolitan College over the next five years.
Another future project is to build a Metropolitan College dormitory. A site has not yet been chosen for the facility, which is scheduled to be completed by spring 2000. The availability of housing will help with recruitment from other parts of the state and will provide an academic and social center that operates on the Metropolitan College schedule, says Kinney of UPS.
"The need for a dormitory is not immediate, because we've been able to meet our current needs for students locally, but later on we will need to recruit across the state," he says. "We also want to foster an environment of camaraderie and teamwork, and a dorm would help us do that. There's a cohort group of students in the School to Work program that relies on one another to be successful, and we want to continue that type of supportive atmosphere in Metropolitan College."