About 14 million college students are working, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (Georgetown Center). For the past 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been taking time from their studies to earn a paycheck. Learning While Earning: The New Normal examines these students who combine work with ongoing learning.
“Today, almost every college student works, but you can’t work your way through college anymore,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and the report’s lead author. “Even if you work, you have to take out loans and take on debt.”
A student working full-time at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually, which would not cover tuition and living expenses at most colleges.
Working and learning can result in better education and stronger career prospects for students, especially when they work in jobs related to what they study. However, working too much can reduce completion rates for low-income and first-generation college students.
In addition, the report finds:
• Going to college and working while doing so is better than going straight to work after high school. Many people argue that it’s better to go to work than to go to college, particularly from the perspective of lost potential wages while in school. Our findings show clearly that students who complete college degrees while working are more likely over time to transition to managerial positions with higher wages than people who go straight into full-time work after high school.
• Working while attending college hurts disadvantaged students the most. This is because working learners of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to work full-time and attend under-resourced open-admission community colleges. There is a widespread consensus that working too much while enrolled in a postsecondary program hurts one’s chances of completing it. It is not clear, however, whether low completion rates among working learners employed full-time is due to working more, having access to fewer educational and support services, the relevance of the program to their career, or other barriers associated with socioeconomic status.
• Working and learning simultaneously has benefits, especially when students work in jobs related to what they study. Work experience also becomes an asset that working learners carry with them as they enter the full-time job market, accelerating their launch into full-time careers.
• Most students are working. Students are workers and workers are students. From 1989 to 2008, between 70 percent and 80 percent of undergraduates were employed. By 2012, that share declined to 62 percent due to the job losses associated with the 2007- 2009 recession.4 Students work whether they are in high school or college; whether they are rich, poor, or somewhere in between; whether they are young and inexperienced or mature and experienced.
• One-third of working learners are 30 or older. Mature working learners (ages 30-54) primarily comprise workers who have a postsecondary credential but are upgrading their credentials to keep up with the requirements of their jobs, to earn a promotion, or to retrain for a new career.
• More people are working full-time while in college. About 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week. About 25 percent of all working learners
are simultaneously employed full-time and enrolled in college full-time. Adding to their stress, about 19 percent of all working learners have children.