Working in College
• 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...