Student Part-time Work Increasing – Good or Bad?

More post-secondary students are working at part-time jobs than ever before. The result of the ever increasing cost of education, students work up to 20 hours per week. But is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Part Time Job Fair, 2011
Part Time Job Fair, 2011 (Photo credit: UNCUCS)

For many of us in the late 70’s, life as a student consisted of going to class, doing your homework and then experiencing the university scene. Friday nights were usually spent at the campus disco trying to attract someone of interest. Other nights were engaged in debates about the merits of one theory over another or conjecturing solutions to world problems, over a beer to two of course.

I guess we can call them “the good ole days” because only one in three students worked at a part-time job while they were in a post-secondary institution. By 2010, Statistics Canada reported that one in two students were working. Recent studies in the UK found that two thirds of students are working there. Finally, one study in the U.S. this fall indicates that 80% of students now hold part-time jobs of up to 20 hours per week! The trend is not encouraging.

The increasing cost of education is blamed for this situation. Students cannot make sufficient money during the summer months to cover all their post-secondary costs. In addition, it seems that parents are not as able to kick in supplementary funds like they used to. The US study says that parents are now paying 27% of the student’s cost, down from 37% three years ago. The rest of the money comes from student loans or from increasingly scarce scholarships and grants.

But is this good or bad? Many studies have attempted to assess the impact of work on academic performance, the amount of time to complete studies, student retention and personal stress. All agree that long work hours can interfere with school outcomes. There is less certainty with regards to low to moderate amounts of work.

Emily, a fourth year student at the University of Ottawa, says that jobs make doing school work more difficult. She has many assignments where they must work in groups. Trying to juggle everyone’s schedule between school and work has them meeting on Sunday mornings to complete assignments.

The rising cost of living and student tuition means that students are shouldering increasing financial responsibility during their time at university. As a result, the choice of which post-secondary school to attend is increasingly driven by cost and not quality of education. This means more students are living at home while going to university or college.

Whether part time work is good or bad is still an unanswered question. No doubt there is some effect on school outcomes. However, part-time jobs seem to be a reality for most of today’s students. I am saddened that the post-secondary experience has come down to this; a struggle to pay for an education that may or may not result in a job.

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