Working through college to work through life


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A 12-pack of Ramen: $2.12.
Textbooks: $450.
Tuition: $4, 824.
Getting a bachelor’s degree: –$26,600.

Wait. The MasterCard commercial always ends in “Priceless,” not an absurdly high negative number. Although that is true, it is not the case for the majority of college students.

According to the New York Times, about two-thirds of all undergraduate students borrow money to at least help pay for college. Adding to that burden is the inflation rate of college. The Huffington Post reports college tuition rates have risen more than 1,000 percent in 30 years.

The next question is, how are students surviving during school? Loans cannot always pay the tuition, the groceries, the bills and other expenses college students experience. Plus, loans need repaid. This is why the number of working undergraduate students has grown exponentially in recent years.

CBS News reported that nearly 71 percent of undergraduate students work as of a 2011 study. CBS’ information came from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported 52.6 percent of people in the workforce aged 18–24 work full time, while 47.4 percent work part time. That is 8.2 million college-aged students working full time and 7.405 million working part time. Compared to the next demographic of 25–29 year olds, 12.4 million work full time and 2.7 million work part time.

Many campuses provide opportunities for students to work on campus whether it is part time or full time; however, a lot of students opt to work off campus because there is an opportunity for higher pay.

Kane Brookens, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary arts works at Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea House in Chambersburg, Pa. Brookens is a waiter at the restaurant and has been for three years.

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Photo by Cara Shumaker / The Slate
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Photo by Cara Shumaker / The Slate

“I work because I need the money for gas, expenses and I’m trying to save up for my future,” Brookens explained.

He averages about 20–25 hours every week, which allows him time to finish his homework and study for exams. A possible drawback to working during college is that a student’s grades can suffer.

“Work hasn’t really affected my schoolwork,” Brookens said. “I do most of the work during the week, but being a waiter has really flexible hours. I only spend a few hours at work most weekend nights so I have time Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings to get homework finished.”

Off-campus work can provide a steadier job and income since it does not shut down for breaks. It can also be a good place to start post-graduation while job hunting.

Sometimes students need a full-time position to make ends meet but off-campus work is not always flexible enough to work around a class schedule. That is when on-campus work, such as with Chartwells, the company that provides dining services at Shippensburg University, can be helpful.

Divera Ross works 32 hours a week in the Ceddia Union Building (CUB) food services. She is considered full time and is also a full-time student, taking a 15-credit course load.

“I’m an adult that has bills and nobody is taking care of me,” Ross said. “I don’t have a trust fund. I have to work full time because I pay for my apartment, my car and my insurance.”

Not all student-workers have the ability to work full time like Ross or the means to work off campus like Brookens. A work-study program started by the U.S. government to help college students ease the burden of college is available at SU, as well as 3,400 other colleges and universities across the country.

At SU, there are a variety of work-study positions available. A sampling of these jobs includes work as a computer lab assistant, work within academic departments and work with general departments, such as those found in Old Main as well.

Paul Engelkemier is a senior at SU who is slated to graduate in December. Engelkemier holds a work-study job with the shipping and receiving department.

Engelkemier began his career with the shipping and receiving department as a freshman and has worked there since. His longevity with the department paid off, as he became a student manager during his final semester.

Like all work-study jobs, Engelkemier has a limit on the number of hours he can work per week. His cap is 10 hours.

The benefit of work-study is the ability to do homework at work if all tasks are completed. Some positions allow this more than others.

“Once we finish all of our work for the day — so once all of the packages are out — I can leave work and stay on the clock whenever I’m scheduled to leave,” Engelkemier said. “It’s not a consistent time I end everyday. We’re working off the schedules of people bringing packages in.”

Working on campus has a convenience factor, which could lead to lower wages. Engelkemier makes minimum wage but has the opportunity to do homework. Ross did not disclose her hourly wage, although, a full-time position with Chartwells does offer a higher pay rate, including union benefits.

“One of the main reasons I work here is because it’s only five or 10 minutes away from my home,” Ross said. “Plus, my supervisor adjusts my school schedule and tries to work with it.”

Ross added that her supervisors believe education comes first, something off-campus employers may not do.

Holding a job throughout college has become the norm, even if the job has nothing to do with a student’s future degree.

Engelkemier is a political science major working in shipping and receiving. Brookens is an interdisciplinary arts major working as a waiter. Both see benefits to working during college other than a financial imperative.

“The positives, I would say, are always having money, and it teaches me to manage my time,” Brookens said. “I make very good money where I work. I’m definitely not in the poor college kid niche. And as far as managing my time, it gives me a constant ‘You need to get your homework done because you will not have time if you wait.’”

“[Working in college] shows future employers that you are responsible, that you know how to make money, that you know how the world works,” Engelkemier said. “It shows that I know how to balance school work, work-work and a social life.”

College is viewed as a time to learn life skills. It not only teaches students about their chosen careers, but also how to handle situations that arise in life. Engelkemier said working helped him structure his day. He added that he learned how to create a schedule to ensure his homework gets done and his job is done well.

“It’s enabled me to learn how to deal with people in general,” Brookens said. “I’m now a master of small talk and I no longer find myself in really awkward situations because I know how to lead into a conversation.”

As a waiter, Brookens also learned how to handle difficult people both as co-workers and as customers, something employers look for in a potential employee.

“If you do it [working in college] right, I think it can help you a lot with just college life,” Engelkemier said.


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