LEARNING AND EARNING:
WORKING IN COLLEGE
JONATHAN M. ORSZAG
PETER R. ORSZAG
DIANE M. WHITMORE
OMMISSIONED BY UPROMISE, INC.
Students are increasingly likely to work while in college. Since 1984, the fraction of college students aged 16 to 24 who also work full- or part-time has increased from 49 to 57 percent. Not only are students more likely to work today, but they are more likely to work full-time: the share of students working full-time while going to school full-time has nearly doubled, rising from 5.6 percent in 1985 to 10.4 percent in 2000. In 2000, 828,000 full-time students worked full-time, compared to 366,000 in 1985. Working students can be categorized into two groups: those who primarily identify themselves as students but who work in order to pay the bills, and those who are first and foremost workers who also take some college classes. Almost two-thirds of undergraduates who work consider themselves "students who work"; the other third consider themselves "workers who study."
In the 1995-96 school year, employed students worked an average of 25 hours per week. Students at four-year colleges are more likely to work a smaller number of hours per week. On average, working college students earn roughly $7.50 per hour. The empirical evidence suggests that the effects of working while in college varies by the type of job held (e.g., full-time vs. part-time work) and its relation to the academic environment (e.g., an on-campus vs. an off-campus job).
Part-time student employment may have beneficial effects: for example, an oncampus research position may spark a student's interest in further academic programs or provide important work experience that will improve future labor market prospects. Working part-time as a student generally appears to supplant only nonproductive activities, such as watching television. In addition, students who work fewer than 10 hours per week have slightly higher GPAs than other similar students. However, full-time employment may impair student performance. For example, 55 percent of those students working 35 or more hours per week report that work has a negative effect on their studies. Students working full-time also reported the following liabilities: 40 percent report that work limits their class schedule; 36 percent report it reduces their class choices; 30 percent report it limits the number of classes they take; and 26 percent report it limits access to the library. Students who work full-time are also more likely to drop out of school. For example, the available evidence is consistent with a roughly 10 percentage point differential in graduation rates between full-time and part-time workers. In 2000, nearly 830,000 full-time college students worked full-time. Because of the adverse effects of such full-time work, tens of thousands of these college students are likely to drop out of school and fail to receive a college degree.
Working a limited number of hours (e.g., 10 hours a week) at an on-campus job appears to have positive impacts on student performance, while working a significant 2
number of hours (e.g., 35 hours or more per week) has adverse consequences. It is unclear at what point student employment moves from being beneficial to being counterproductive. But the difference between graduating from college and not graduating from college may involve a change in work schedules that would have a modest impact on student earnings relative to the lifetime gains from completing college. For example, reducing hours worked by 10 hours (from 35 hours per week to 25 hours per week) would reduce a student's annual earnings during the school year by roughly $2,250. Such potential earnings pale in comparison to the lifetime gains from completing college.
Since full-time work appears to have negative effects on student enrollment rates and perhaps also on academic performance, it is therefore of particular concern that...
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