College Students Working: The Choice Nexus

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College Students Working: The Choice Nexus
A Review of Research Literature on College Students and Work by Tina Tuttle, with Jeff McKinney & Melanie Rago

I PA S T O P I C B R I E F S

College enrollments have continued on an upward climb for decades, as more and more people recognize the value of a college education, especially the tangible value of the diploma in the marketplace. The past few decades have witnessed growing diversity in higher education, but with that diversity we also see dramatic changes in how students are funding their college educations. Adult degree seekers, firstgeneration students, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds have become a mainstay in the growing mix in college today. This new mix challenges the persistent image of the of the “traditional,” direct-from-high school, white, middle-class college student on a residential campus, who may work part time, is dependent on parents, and graduates within four years. In fact this picture represents less than 27% of college students today (Choy 2002). Today’s college students face a complex set of dilemmas about whether to attend college, where to attend, how to pay, how much to work, how many jobs to take, how to pay credit card bills and car payments, how to juggle family and children, and how to balance these competing priorities while in school. The amount of time students spend working has been of increasing concern for the educators that serve them and, in some instances, the students themselves. Recent data would indicate that 80% of American undergraduates worked while attending college in 1999-2000 (King, 2003).This represents an 8% increase over the class less than a decade previously, among whom 72% worked (Cuccaro-Alamin & Choy, 1998). Further, there appears to be a strong body of literature that points to the positive effects of not working versus working while attending college (King, 2002; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Many studies focus on working students, but ask very different questions and measure different outcomes. Researchers have looked at how work affects campus engagement, persistence and graduation, cognitive and social development, development of leadership and social skills, GPA, faculty interaction, and peer interaction. Other studies have looked 1

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at financial aid and the relationship with working. Given that many, if not most, students need to work to afford college, it is important for higher education researchers, policy analysts, practitioners, faculty, and administrators to better understand their needs and challenges in trying to balance work, financing, and college. This brief on working students reviews the literature on issues relating to working students and the challenges for campuses—challenges for student persistence and degree completion. This review is broken into the most common categories with research relating to each category reviewed. After a summary of the literature, we present questions for campus administration and for researchers and information on the federal work-study program.

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Working—An American Tradition
Historically, working through college has been part of the college experience for much of American history. According to a 1937 study at Columbia University, 65% of baccalaureate and graduate college students in the 1920s-30s held jobs ranging from selling Fuller brushes, magazine subscriptions, shoveling coal, childcare and more (Smith, 1937). Data on college students became more widespread in the 1960s, and reveal the continual increase in percentage of students working since the 1960s (See Figure 1. Percentage of College Students Working 19612000

100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%
1 961 1 979 (Stern & Nakata 1 ) 991 1 986 1 992 (Cucarro Alamin & 1 995 2000 (NCES; Choy 1 998)

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67% 40% 49%

72%

79%

80%

Figure 1). This trend has changed little and...
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