More full-time students also working

BY AMY MATTSON | JUNE 15, 2009 7:26 AM

Recent data show the percentage of full-time students working more than 20 hours a week has doubled since 1970.

But the relationship between student employment and education is complicated. And with universities and students feeling increasing financial pressure, UI researchers say the “complex” connection is more salient than ever.

“The question of the relationship between work and going to college is unavoidable,” said Mark Salisbury, a UI doctoral student who helped conduct a still-unpublished study on the subject. “But I think we’ve just scratched the surface.”

Salisbury, who worked for a local shoe store, aroofing company, and a community newspaper as an undergraduate, collaborated with another student and UI education Professor Ernest Pascarella.

They found the effects of holding a job depend on the amount of work done, the characteristics of the students involved in the work, and whether the work is off-campus or on-campus.

Matt Lapka, a recent graduate of the UI, who worked full-time at Hy-Vee while in school, faced the challenges of juggling both responsibilities.

“I was doing just enough school work to get by,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of free time to hang out with my friends; I didn’t get to know my classmates.”

For Kyle Moehlis, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, it was all about equilibrium.

“There’s a tricky balance between too many hours negatively affecting my studies and just the right amount,” he said.

Working students generally have a “better” liberal-arts education experience than those who don’t, Salisbury said. Clocking over 20 hours per week can translate to greater gains in areas of leadership and psychological well-being, the study shows.

“On the flip side, I learned a lot about business, and I learned a lot about the real world,” said Lapka, who started a venture as a videographer.

But those effects don’t apply to every student worker. Having a job can also have a negative effect on critical thinking ability and other cognitively related outcomes. Students with off-campus jobs often have more intellectually engaging responsibilities and have an easier time making a connection between classroom studies and real-world experiences compared to those with on-campus employment, Salisbury said.

He hopes the study’s findings will prompt higher education institutions — including the UI — to take advantage of the overlap between work and school, instead of “wringing their hands about students who work as a ‘necessary evil.’ ”

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