Why working in college might be a good idea

Morgan Holbrook

Student loan debt in the United States currently sits at $1.5 trillion. If each of those dollars were laid end to end, it would reach from the surface of the Earth past the sun.

This staggering number and the numerous factors surrounding it, has been the subject of extensive study and debate. One factor in particular being the effect of working for pay while attending class.

A study conducted by Rutgers University and City University of New York (CUNY) found that students who worked a part-time or full-time job while attending college averaged earnings of up to $20,000 higher than classmates who did not.

“Working students appear to benefit from the experience, even if they do not complete a degree,” said co-author Daniel Douglas. Researchers analyzed the transcripts and earnings for over 160,000 students, and after accounting for numerous demographic variables, they found students who worked for pay during college had higher earnings for up to 15 years after leaving school.

The study suggests that working provides skills and networks that better serve students opposed to their peers who don’t work. Beyond providing students with income, work encourages them to develop crucial time management skills and experience real-world applications for what they are learning in class.

Although, research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) suggests many students who choose to work during school don’t see it so much as a choice but rather as a necessity.

The survey by the NCES found that of the approximately 63% of students who work for pay while attending school, 54% of respondents said they could not afford to attend college if they did not do so.

The cost of attendance has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, and state minimum wage has not kept pace. According to records available from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the State University System of Florida:

  • Florida minimum wage as of January 1, 2007 was $6.67; the 2007/2008 cost of tuition and fees at UNF for the Fall/Spring semester was approximately $3606.
  • Florida minimum wage as of January 1, 2017 was $8.10; the 2017/2018 cost of tuition and fees at UNF for the Fall/Spring semester was approximately $6590.

At UNF, while the cost of attendance increased by 83% between 2007 and 2017, Florida minimum wage only increased by 21%.

A report from Georgetown University suggested some working students are more likely to have lower grade-point averages, and less likely to graduate. Specifically, students who work in low-paying service, retail and administrative roles, that are not directly related to their field of study. The report states 48% of students in these jobs work 15 to 35 hours per week, and 26% work more than 35 hours.


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