Study: College students with jobs are 20% less likely to graduate, or take longer

The big idea

Students who work while enrolled in college are about 20% less likely to complete their degrees than similar peers who do not work, a large and meaningful drop in the predicted graduation rate. Among those who graduated, working students took an average of 0.6 of a semester longer to finish. This is primarily because students who work large amounts — more than 15 hours a week — earn fewer college credits each semester.

These findings from a new study at AERA Openis a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the American Education Research Association.

To learn more about how work affects a student’s chances of graduation, we analyzed 17 years of data – 2001 to 2017 – from the state of Tennessee. We matched college student records to employment records for about 600,000 students. We compared employed students with those who were not employed but were similar in terms of family income, high school GPA, location and demographic characteristics. We also looked at college progress for students who worked some semesters but not others, to see if they were more successful in completing their classes in semesters when they weren’t working.

Finally, we found that employed students enrolled for one fewer credit on average per semester than non-employed students. This is probably because they have less time available for classes. Students who work are just as successful in their classes after signing up, with similar course completion rates and similar GPAs. But because they enroll in fewer courses, their progress through college is slower, and they are less likely to graduate.

Remarkably, we did not see a drop in the graduation rate among students who worked a small amount, especially less than eight hours per week. These students enroll for the same number of credits as their non-working classmates, and they complete their degrees for the same amount. This suggests that a small amount of work does not affect student progress toward graduation.

Why is this important?

Working while in college is very common, especially for those rising college tuition prices and the student loan debt burden.

NEW estimates showed that 43% of full-time students and 81% of part-time students worked while enrolled in college. In Tennessee, we found that working is especially common among community college students, first-generation students and students returning to college as adults.

With more students trying to juggle work and school, colleges and policymakers can take more steps support working students and help them meet their needs.

If working students take longer to complete college, policymakers can extend access to financial aid for longer periods if necessary. For example, students can access federal Pell Grants for only 12 semesters. This may leave some students without a significant source of help if their work causes them to take longer to complete their degree.

Students need to be aware of the challenges that employment may pose during their college journey. Work can be important for paying the bills and creating opportunities for professional development. However, if students work 15 hours or more, they may find it difficult to earn a college degree, which can ultimately lead to someone getting a higher paying jobs in the future.

What is not yet known

An important question is whether some jobs may be better for college students than others. Some research suggests that campus jobs can more convenient and help students focus on their classes. Students working in a job related to their major can find a real-world connection between their jobs and classes – such as a nursing student working in a hospital. Since work is a necessity for many students, teachers can do more to guide students to the jobs that are best for their success in college.

Walter G. Ecton is the Assistant Professor of Education Policy, Florida State University; Carolyn HeinrichProfessor of Public Policy, Education and Economics, Vanderbilt Universityand Celeste K. Carruthers is Associate Professor of Economics, University of Tennessee.

This article was reprinted from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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