The Problem and Its Background
Many high school and college students work part-time. Does this affect their school performance? Employment during school could improve grades if working fosters attributes that are complementary with academic success, such as industriousness or time management skills, or instead reduce grades by constraining time and energy available for schoolwork. Alternatively, working might be correlated with academic performance, yet not directly impact it, if unobserved student differences influence both labor supply and grades. Unmotivated students might neither work for pay nor receive good grades because they put little effort into the labor market or school. In contrast, students uninterested in academics might work long hours that would otherwise have been devoted to leisure. Students might underestimate the link between college achievement and future earnings (e.g. Jones and Jackson, 1990; Loury and Garman, 1995), or any associated positive externalities, when making labor supply decisions. If so, obtaining a consistent estimate of how such decisions affect academic performance is prospectively important for policy consideration. Working students are ubiquitous in American higher education. Students are more likely to work than they are to live on campus, to study full time, to attend a four-year college or university, or to apply for or receive financial aid. Students work regardless of the type of institution they attend, their age or family responsibilities, or even their family income or educational and living expenses. Working while enrolled is perhaps the single most common major activity among America’s diverse undergraduate population. The share of students who work has remained virtually unchanged since the federal government first began asking students detailed questions about their employment in the mid-1990s. On average, employed students spend almost 30 hours per week working while...
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