“You can’t find anything else like this,” says Bardstown native Nicole Ballard. “You get school paid for and your books. You can take out loans if you need money for other school expenses. I am coming out of college debt-free. It is hard to beat that through any other program. I just can’t find anything wrong with it.”
Ballard is talking about Metropolitan College, a cooperative effort of United Parcel Service (UPS), the University of Louisville, Jefferson Community and Technical College, and the state of Kentucky.
In the mid-1990s, there was a problem at the UPS hub in Louisville, although from all appearances things could not have been better. Customer demand for the company’s delivery services was so strong that UPS was considering building a mega-hub in Louisville. The problem was finding enough part-time employees to fully staff the facility. Without an adequate workforce, UPS would locate the mega-hub in a larger metropolitan area outside Kentucky.
A few years later, Ballard also had a problem. She was juggling the academic demands of college at the University of Louisville with the demands of a part-time job as a data entry clerk, all the while knowing that when she completed her degree, it would take her years to pay off the student loans needed to pay for school. She needed a better way to pay for college.
Both problems had the same solution: Metropolitan College.
Metropolitan College was created to benefit potential college students from Kentucky and surrounding areas, attract the part-time workers needed to support the mega-UPS hub in Louisville, and increase the percentage of college graduates in Kentucky.
In exchange for free college tuition and a host of other benefits, Metropolitan College students work in the UPS Next Day Air operation between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. for a total of 15-20 hours per week. Most of the jobs are in package handling, although a few administrative and data entry positions are available. Participants must work for UPS 12 months each year and pass all the classes they take. As UPS employees, they receive an hourly wage plus annual increases, health benefits, paid vacations and holidays, 401(k) savings plans, and stock ownership.
Participants also receive numerous other benefits. These include allowances for books and housing, a mentoring program to help adjust to third-shift work and college life, a career counseling center, personal counseling services, tutoring, access to the student activities center at U of L, a deaf-student services office, and a disability resource center. Students do not even have to pay their own tuition and then be reimbursed. If they pass the courses, the fees are taken care of through a special arrangement between UPS and the participating schools. UPS pays for half the tuition. Federal or state grants, or the Metropolitan College (funded through the state), pay for the remainder.
From the start, the program has been a resounding success, according to John Kinney, workforce development director for the UPS Worldport.
“The program was born in December 1998 at a meeting attended by the presidents of three schools (U of L, Kentucky Tech, and Jefferson Community College, which are now Jefferson Community and Technical College). The governor (Paul Patton) was interested in keeping UPS in Louisville, and we knew that we did not have enough part-time workers to expand the facility and expedite next-day air products. That day the governor issued an edict that the state would work with UPS to come up with a solution. The Metropolitan College was that solution. Within two to three weeks, we had a starting budget to work with, and on July 1, 1998, just six months later, we had our first 767 students.”
Not only has the college solved UPS’ need for employees, but employee turnover–which once approached 100 percent–is no longer an issue. From 1999-2000, UPS had to hire more than 7,000 people. This year they will hire right at 1,000.
The project has also had a positive impact for Kentucky. The Louisville operation, now known as a world port, is the largest hub in the UPS system worldwide, employing some 23,000 people, the vast majority of them part-time employees in the company’s next-day air operation.
And the impact is statewide since the program attracts participants from across the state, according to Kinney.
“Our obligation is to recruit students statewide to fill the jobs,” says Kinney. “We have a recruiting operation that goes from Paducah to Appalachia. Many of our participants are first-generation college students, many of them even first- generation high school students. Without the barrier of money in their way, they are free to pursue an education they might otherwise not be able to.”
Indeed, UPS pumps some $2-3 million into recruiting efforts each year and has also built a $1 million, six-classroom facility known as the Training and Education Center (TEC) onsite. The savings from lower employee turnover, increased productivity, fewer on-the-job injuries, and better service to customers far exceed the costs.
There have been adjustments for everyone along the way.
Ballard, who started in the program in May 2000, says the hardest part for her was adjusting to the late-night work hours.
“In the beginning, the biggest problem was adjusting to the third-shift schedule,” she says. “Throughout time, that has taken a back burner to making time for school as well as work itself. But there was never any problem that there wasn’t someone there to help.”
Ballard graduated in December 2002 with a major in management and a minor in communications. She is working with the UPS Career Placement Center to find a job. Meanwhile, she is getting valuable experience as a front-line manager. In February 2002, she was promoted at UPS and now supervises 15 employees.
“This is truly a learning experience,” she says. “There is something new every day, and it is a good environment in which to learn.”
UPS also made some adjustments, the most significant a total change of philosophy about student workers.
“We went from hiring workers who happened to be students to hiring students who happen to be workers for UPS now,” says Kinney. “We realized that they are working in the middle of the night and that this is hard work, so we worked hard to build a student-friendly package of benefits.”
Kinney would know. Back in the late 1970s, Kinney worked for UPS part time while attending Boston College as a biology major.
“I was a broke student with a lot of debt,” he recalls. “I worked the night shift and still had 8 a.m. classes. When college finals came along, I had to make a decision if I wanted to do well on finals or do well at work. There was an inherent conflict. With the Metropolitan College program, the students never have to decide whether they should study or put their job at risk. We recognize that being a student is their most important job and take a common sense approach to it all.”
Although Kinney opted to make UPS his career, he recognizes that most of the Metropolitan College students will not, and UPS not only expects this but also encourages it through an extensive career planning and placement service.
“We are just now starting to generate our first wave of graduates,” says Kinney. “We are helping them find jobs locally or back in their home communities. We feel like it is tremendous to be able to produce a skilled product–an educated person with a good work ethic and strong management skills who can go home and be a benefit to their employer and their state.”
SCHOOL-TO-WORK FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
Some members of the Metropolitan College program have already had a taste of work at UPS when they start in the program. They are graduates of the School-to-Work Program UPS sponsors.
Like their college counterparts, these high school seniors work part time at UPS and attend classes, some at their regular high school and some at the UPS Training and Education Center. When they complete the program, they can move seamlessly into the Metropolitan College program.
“We help them not just with the academic aspects but also with the things that are part of the life of a high school senior,” says John Kinney. “Problems off the job, such as a car breaking down, directly affect the job, so we try to solve as many of those problems for them as we can.”
To date, some 500 School-to-Work graduates have gone on to the Metropolitan College Program, says Kinney. The program is offered in nine Kentucky counties. To find out more, call UPS at (502) 329-3060.
INTERESTED IN METROPOLITAN COLLEGE?
To find out more about the Metropolitan College program, call the UPS Job Line at (888) 316-3704 to request a packet of information. Students are typically hired a few months before classes begin so they have time to get acclimated to the job before beginning college and can begin the program at any point in their academic career. Students also have to meet the admissions guidelines at the participating college.