A difficult balancing act
National research shows students working more to fund college costs in challenging economy
The early descent into a busy day is something that many college students have come to know by heart, but the burden of balancing school and work has continued to grow.
Statistics gathered by the National Center for Education Studies show that the number of college students working — and the number of hours they spend at work — has risen steadily since 1970.
The most recent statistics from fall 2011 show that 16 percent of full-time students between 16 and 24 years old work 20-34 hours a week.
Many part-time students, including comparative cultures and politics junior Victoria Lacasse, tend to work even more. At least 33 percent work more than 35 hours a week, according to the center.
Lacasse works at two jobs totaling 35-40 hours a week in addition to taking seven credits at MSU. She works for DTN Management Co. at the apartment store and also has another job on campus.
By the numbers
16 percent of full-time students worked less than 20 hours a week.
16 percent of full-time students worked between 20 and 34 hours a week.
6 percent of full-time students worked 35 hours or more a week.
About 41 percent of full-time undergraduate students worked in addition to attending a postsecondary institution.
9 percent of part-time undergraduate students worked less than 20 hours a week.
30 percent of part-time students worked 20 to 34 hours a week.
33 percent of part-time students worked 35 or more hours a week.
Source: Fall 2011 National Center for Education Statistics
“I like to be busy,” she said.
Busy to the tune of waking up at 5:30 a.m. routinely.
Lacasse said that a combination of financial need and the desire to acquire work skills influence her decision to work so much. Her parents helped her financially through her first year, but because she has siblings, she took over the responsibility of paying for school after that.
“I just don’t think it’s fair to have my parents have all my loans for an education I’m going to be using,” she said. “Also, I think it is really important to work while you’re going to school. … I definitely put a lot more effort into the class when it was my $1,300 I was spending.”
MSU economics professor Charles Ballard identifies well with the finances of students holding jobs. He said the increased number of students looking for work comes back to Michigan’s long-term trend of funding a smaller portion of public higher education.
“In the 1959-1960 school year, 77 percent of our budget came from the state,” he said. “Now, it is (about) 22 percent from the state and 70 percent from tuition.”
On a federal level, as well, changes to student loan rates could force students to re-think the way they budget.
With students having to shoulder more of the financial load in funding the university, Ballard was not surprised to see a spike in students looking for jobs. There are obvious positives for students working while in college, Ballard said, but he cautioned that he’s seen negatives as well.
“If you can work at a job on campus, you can learn skills and work with people,” Ballard said. “And it gets you money, which helps defray the costs, so you don’t graduate … (and) have such a mountain of student loan debt.
“But with so many things in economics, it’s about finding the right balance,” he said.
The change has perhaps been no more drastic than in the past decade, experts said, as MSU has raised tuition while grappling with less assistance from the state and penalties for tuition increases above a certain level.
Ballard said he has had students who have tried to take on too much with work and school.
“I’m concerned that some students faced with this financial squeeze may be working so many hours that is has an adverse effect on their academic performance,” he said. “You’re first and foremost here to get an education, not to pay for that education.”
Working out of necessity
Marcus Sanderlin, neighborhood career advisor at the university’s Career Services Network, understands that the balance of paying for and receiving an education isn’t always one made by choice.
Sanderlin received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida while working two jobs throughout to be able to afford his education.
The benefits he gained from those on-campus jobs are the same benefits he hopes to instill in the students he helps at MSU.
Sanderlin said he encourages students seeking jobs to look at places on-campus like Sparty’s or one of the dining halls.
“It’s a great place to develop professional experience,” he said. “It allows them to learn transferrable skills.”
Public policy junior Domonique Clemons started learning those skills at Sparty’s and has transferred them to jobs with state Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline, along with Michigan 4-H Capitol Experience and ASMSU.
Clemons said he works 35 hours a week while taking 10 credits. Clemons also has a parent finishing school, making the financial burden a major motivator to work as much as he does.
“I think if it wasn’t for the price, I would still work, but not as much,” he said. “Maybe half as much.”