The education requirement for au pairs on one of those features of the program that can be misleading, both for families and for au pairs themselves. My sense is that the US, the agencies and the LCCs all know that meeting the requirements with ‘only’ $500 tuition credit is almost impossible. And, they rely on clever LCCs, community ESL programs, wealthy host families, and au pairs willing to accept something less to find a way to make it work. If I could change 3 things about the way au pair programs are run, this education requirement situation is one that I’d change.
Along with some of the other things that au pairs and host families are told about the program, there is a large gap between the myth of the Education Requirement and the reality of the education requirement.
1. Misleading advertising .
One of the ways that au pair programs ARE advertised outside the US to attreact au pairs is to describe the au pair year as a chance to "study abroad" or "go to school in the US".
2. Legitimation for the special Au Pair immigration status
And, within the US, the education requirement is what gets the au pairs their special immigration status…as I understand it, they qualify for visas more on the status of ‘exchancge student’ than ’employee’. (You can see the heritage of this thinking in the relationship between the agency Au Pair in America and its larger for profit holding company, the American Institute for Foreign Study. )
Conflicting Priorities : Au Pairs aren’t here to study. They are here to work, and live, and travel, and have fun, and learn, more or less in that order.
There is almost no way that an au pair can afford the time or the money to "study" during her year here. With a 45 hours work week, $179/ week in pocket money, and an arrival/departure schedule that rarely coordinates with college semesters and quarters, it can be very hard for an au pair to really be a student. This is not to say that taking classes is a bad idea, or that it is worthless — far from it. Taking classes gets au pairs out of the house, into a group setting, often with other young people and can be a way to improve their English and make friends.
Conflicting schedules: College classes and childcare schedules often conflict. Let’s face it, who wants to have an au pair taking classes at a time when the family needs childcare? How often can a family ‘protect’ the au pair’s class time, like when a child is home sick and both parents must go to work? How many parents can promise that they car will always be available Tuesday nights from 7 to 9?
V oodoo Economics: Just where can a young person get 6 credits on an allowance of $500 per year? Our au pairs have always had trouble finding classes (1) they could afford, (2) that offered credits, (3) that were nearby, (4) that were taught at a convenient time, (5) that interested them. Even the community colleges in our towns have been either too expensive or unwilling to accept students for just one or two classes. (It can be hard for the au pairs to meet the residency requirements to get ‘in county’ rates.)
I actually feel sorry for the girls who want to take classes (beyond ESL) who then realize how expensive classes actually are. The cost of tuition really comes as a shock to girls whose home counties either subsidize or foot the entire higher education bill. Sometimes the au pairs get mad at the host families, blaming the family for their ‘unwillingness’ to pay for classes
No one taking responsibility: My sense is that the agencies know how hard it is for the girls to find classes that meet the US legal requirements, and that the agencies depend on good LCCs to help the au pairs bend the rules just enough to make it all look like ‘enough’ to qualify. I also suspect that the agencies hope that host families will take care of the additional costs… They can’t be expecting the au pairs to pay very much for their classes, and yet some agencies hold the girls accountable for taking classes by not giving them back their deposits or not letting the girls extend for a 2nd year unless the education requirement can be met. This seems so unfair to me.
ESL classes: The au pairs that have had the best times with classes are those who have needed to improve their English and have taken English as a second language courses, which are offered in our town for a reasonable fee. In both towns, our LCC has been able to get the ‘for credit’ requirement "bent" shall we say, so that these non-credit courses have "counted".
"Weekend" classes: Yes, we know it’s just a 3 day party somewhere on Long Island (and so NOT near New York City, btw), with a few lectures on "American Traditions" thrown in there, but who really cares? The au pairs get credits, they meet people, they do learn something about American culture (maybe not only in the classroom) and they satisfy their requirements. It’s too bad that those travel tours no longer are accepted as classes– those were a great way to meet the requirement and also have fun.
Bendy rules: We have had LCCs who have been able to negotiate with both the county college and the agency to get the girls in-county tuition and/or credit for classes like "Photoshop your way to a new career".
Respecting the basic intent: We have sometimes encouraged our au pairs to take short classes in the town’s Adult School (for $35 a pop) to get them out of the house and learning something new, even when these classes aren’t "official". In this way, we can respect the basic intent of having the au pair out and about, learning something new.
We have also given our au pairs the $500 outright as a way to make up for the deposit they won’t get back at the end of the program because they haven’t met the requirement. This is one of the places where I have been willing to break the rules as long as I have had a way to make it work for our au pairs.
Here’s a comment from a Mom with questions about how to deal with the Education Requirement:
Dear aupairmom.com … I have a question about the educational requirements. The aupairs are required to take six credit hours of coursework for their visa. Our LCC dutifully signed our aupair up last fall at our local community college. When I took our aupair to the bursar to pay for the class, I was shocked to find out that the cost was $800 for only the fall, and would be another $800 for the spring. $300 to make up the difference between our $500 obligation and the full cost seemed like a lot for a young woman who had just gotten here from Europe, so our family happily paid the whole amount. We later let her know that she would have to pay for the next semester herself.
While I think attending classes at the college has been a great experience for our aupair, I don’t think that cost should be part of the deal. My question is this: do all the aupairs pay this much, or is there a sneaky way of getting around this, like auditing a course instead of registering as a student?
Looking for suggestions. Amy
Have you found any great ways to meet the basic intent of the Education requirements, in a way that satisfies everyone? Please share….