College & Work Projects - NYA - 1938

Devising suitable work projects for NYA students has been a challenge to the ingenuity of college authorities. At the out- set many of the work projects undoubtedly were routine in character or were frivolous "boondoggling" or were hardly more than camouflage. Even yet at some institutions many of the work projects probably are not of high quality and are taken lightly by students.

Repeated inspections by NYA officials and the descriptions of student work projects submitted to Washington indicate, however, that, as a rule, NYA-aided students perform useful work for the money they receive.

A sampling of more than 7000 college aid recipients in 338 colleges in April 1937 showed the following distribution of youth according to type of work activity:

  • Research, surveys, statistics, etc. 21.4 Percent
  • Community service 20.5 Percent
  • Ground and building maintenance 16.3 Percent
  • Departmental service 9.0 Percent
  • Library service 8.3 Clerical assistants 7.4 Percent
  • Laboratory assistants 4.0 Percent
  • Home economics 2.8 Percent
  • Construction 1.9 Percent
  • Recreation and education 1.5 Percent
  • Reproduction (photography, printing, etc.) 1.3 Percent
  • Art and dramatics 1.2 Percent
  • Tutorial services 1.1 Percent
  • Janitorial services 0.9 Percent
  • Miscellaneous 2.4 Percent

The research, survey, and statistical projects cover a range as wide as the frontiers of human knowledge. Examples selected at random include: experiments in the development of new ceramic glazes; soil research; the preparation of local and State historical studies; transcription of legal debates in foreign countries; the editing and indexing of old manuscripts; the study of building illumination; research in cellular metabolism; the preparation of topographical atlases and of charts and other devices for instructional use; research into an immense variety of economic and sociological subjects.

At the University of Minnesota, a NYA study of fish scales probably will lead to radical changes in the methods of fish-feeding and -stocking.

Departmental service includes the preparation of supplementary teaching material, the compilation of guides and bibliographies, the arrangement of exhibits, the construction of models and technical equipment, the scoring of tests, and the grading of examination papers.

Library and clerical projects include book repair, cataloguing, the extension of the hours during which the libraries are open; stenography, typing, filing, and duplicating.

Community service includes the direction of play activities on public playgrounds; assisting in public libraries, public nursery schools, city health departments, and other government agencies; and work with quasi-public agencies of many kinds.

Grounds and building maintenance and construction include landscaping and terracing; the remodeling of buildings; the building of swimming pools, sidewalks, and retaining walls; and the repair of furniture and windows. At the University of Nebraska 12 NYA students built an observatory on a revolving base.

The supervision of all student work projects is either provided or arranged for by the educational institutions them- selves. Most campus projects are under the direct supervision of faculty members or maintenance officials. The Federal Government contributes nothing to either supervision or the cost of materials.

A certain percentage of these projects represents work that should be paid for out of regular college budgets—but which is not, owing to inadequate appropriations by State legislatures or reduced income from endowment funds.

A great majority appear to meet the NYA requirement that in so far as possible the work projects should have educational value to the students. Many amount to small research fellowships and departmental assistantships.

In response to anonymous questionnaires in the Ohio State University survey, 88.9 percent of the NYA students ex- pressed the opinion that NYA work was educationally valuable to them. More than 52 percent reported that their academic work had been helped by their NYA activities.

Nearly 63 per cent, said that their NYA work was related to the courses they were taking. And more than 60 percent said that their NYA work seemed to them to be as valuable as the taking of a university course.

Of these same students, 89.8 percent felt the work they were doing was valuable enough to justify the expenditure of Government money. And 89 per cent, thought that the standards of work required of them were as high as private employers would expect.

The individuals who conducted this survey concluded that 177 of the 530 projects investigated had very high social utility, 200 high social utility, 118 medium social utility, 31 low social utility, and 4 very low social utility.

They concluded that 203 of the projects were very well super- vised, 227 were well supervised, 71 were supervised in a mediocre fashion, 27 were poorly supervised, and 2 were very poorly supervised. [Note 1]

Many educators feel that self-supporting students often are so handicapped by the drain on their energy and time that they cannot obtain full value from their college work.

For at least two reasons most of the NYA work projects are less open to criticism on this score than are the usual types of part-time work done by students: first, because they have educational value and, second, because the hours and conditions of work usually are arranged with regard for the health and efficiency of the student.

College faculties generally consider the NYA student work projects of value to them, frequently of immense value. NYA students relieve some faculty members of part of their routine duties and frequently are of positive aid also in enabling faculty members to undertake research projects and special studies. [Note 2]

The NYA college aid program has had some unforeseen incidental results. Several college administrators have reported that devising and supervising NYA projects has jostled some faculty members out of ruts, reinvigorated their imaginations, revived their ambition to do research and special studies, and brought them into closer and more harmonious relations with their students. Some institutions report that the NYA program has led generally to a better understanding between faculty members and their students. [Note 3]

Although there is little definite information on the point, many college officials think that the employability of NYA A New Democracy in Education 169 students has been improved by their work experience on NYA projects. [Note 4]

Many employers, of course, are attracted to youth who have shown their energy or ambition by working their way through college. Perhaps especially for youth preparing to enter various professions, their NYA work often has definite occupational value. In general, these part-time jobs may serve to narrow the gap between school and work, which many progressive educators feel is far too wide.

End Notes

Note 1: Ibid., pp. 113–6

Note 2: In a questionnaire sent out in February 1938 by Charles W. ...; Chairman of the NYA National Advisory Committee, this question was asked: "To what extent has the work performed by NYA students been helpful to the faculty?" All 52 institutions that responded indicated that the work had been of help to faculty members. Many said "decidedly" or "extremely" or "enormously" or "invaluable."

Note 3: Of 52 institutions that responded to a question on this point in Mr. Taus- sig's questionnaire, 37 expressed the opinion that the NYA program had im- proved the relations between the faculty and the student body generally. Others said that it had improved the relations of the faculty to the particular students on NYA. Of the few who answered in the negative, nearly all indicated that they thought the relations of their faculty to their students had been all that could be desired prior to the NYA program. In general, the more decidedly positive answers came from the larger institutions.

Note 4: Opinions on this point given in answer to Mr. Taussig's questionnaire were too general and varied to be classified. A substantial majority were to the effect that the NYA work experience either did or should increase employability. Many responses were marked "no data" unaccompanied by an expression of opinion.

Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "College Aid Work Projects," in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 165-169.

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