Should Wealthy Students Be Required to Do Low-Wage Jobs?

An article at The Atlantic looks at a program at L'Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie, an expensive private economics college in Rabat, Morocco. Students are required to complete an internship at a regular job. In the case of Sawsene Nejjar, who grew up in a wealthy family, that meant selling furniture.

“I had my nail polish, my hair done, my makeup done. I felt good, but everyone was looking at me like, ‘Who’s this bourgeoisie coming here? Why is she talking in French every time she’s talking on the phone? Why is she always smiling?’” said Nejjar, who is currently in her third year.

Her co-workers were different than she was. Mostly members of the middle class, they did not attend private school, if they attended post-secondary school at all. They didn’t talk to each other in French. (The official language is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, though private school teaches French at a young age and public school teaches it a few years later.) The way they spoke the Moroccan dialect of Arabic was different, too.

The purpose of the internship is to expose wealthy students to people of various classes, who they've been insulated from for most of their lives. It's a peek at "how the other half lives," so to speak. What if such a program became common in America? The United States has more income inequality than Morocco. Would spending every day with coworkers and customers outside their experience create a more egalitarian view among privileged students? After all, in any comment thread about tipping, you see that those who once worked for tips tend to leave tips faithfully because they've been there.

But there's no guarantee that such a program will result in changed attitudes. Walking in someone else's shoes for a year is far different from walking in them for a lifetime. And sadly, in poor economic times, even low-status internships may be taking Mcjobs away from people who really need them. As it is now, the ability to take low-pay or unpaid internships that lead to elite jobs is restricted to those who don't have to earn a living. What do you think?      

(Image credit: Flickr user _BuBBy_)

Should private colleges require students to hold a temporary low-status job?




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I think there is a potential benefit to it. Being part of the working poor is truly unfair and these individuals don't have a lot of options or time to be activists to fix the disparity. I'm not saying that asking wealthy college students will fix the wage disparity in America but awareness could be beneficial in the long run.

Italy used to have a year of mandatory military service or a year of volunteering. It was for men only and just ended in 2005. I like the idea of serving your country either through military service or by helping the disadvantaged. It put everyone on a level playing field for a year.
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"You don't treat waitresses nicer because you know what it's like to wait tables."

Funny enough about this example though, nearly everyone I know that has worked in a restaurant has a rather solid and similar opinion about how to treat restaurant employees and an understanding of the nature of tips and how some problems are out of the hands of waitstaff. While I know plenty of people without such experiences that think similarly, I've also seen plenty that do some sort of mental gymnastics to explain why their far from ideal behavior as a customer in a restaurant is justified. While not necessary, in my experience, people working such jobs, even for just a couple months one summer, seems to have some impact. For a day or two, you could isolate yourself and not interact much with other workers, but after a couple weeks, you're going to hear and have to deal with some coworkers' life stories, whether you want to or not. Some even extrapolate their experiences to understanding issues workers in other types of jobs deal with, while some need to work a couple different jobs to pick up on such things, and yet others would probably never learn anything, but that is true of many topics.

If a private school thinks this is an important part of their education, and has some fair way to evaluate it, then it seems like it could fit in. It doesn't matter that some people might find a way to survive it without learning anything, as that seems true of nearly any educational process
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Low wage first year internship @ my business school (as well as mandatory French military duty) brought me 'knowledge'.
What you do with knowledge is another matter. For me it brought humanity in my business decisions. For people I know, well, they went to finance and sucked the world dry anyway :S
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The key word in the poll question is "private". Private colleges should be able to do whatever they want. Prospective customers may choose to buy their product--or not. It's up to them.

Personally, I would find it annoying. I'd rather have a straightforward and simple transactional relationship with a college: I pay X amount of money for access to classes A, B and C. I'd see a requirement like this as a needless complication.

I didn't have internships during college. I worked at a big box retailer cleaning bathrooms and floors and stocking shelves. It was not beneath me--no honest labor is. I don't think that I missed any important opportunities. Instead, I learned how to do a job well and get along with people who were different from me.

As a middle class kid, the last part was really valuable because it was my first prolonged experience to people from a different social/economic class. It gave me a different perspective on how people lived their lives.

I once had a girlfriend who grew up rich and had never worked a day in her life. She was utterly shocked when I told her that most people in America didn't go to college. She could have benefited from a low-wage job.
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