Working Through College Not Feasible Anymore, Report Says


According to a recent study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, although 40% of undergraduate students work upwards of 30 hours a week while in school, tuition is rising so high that the hours aren’t enoigh to cover it.

The report, “Learning While Earning,” goes on to say that even students who are working full-time jobs while attending school are most likely not earning enough to cover the cost of a traditional four-year education.  An estimation by researchers suggests that the average college student working full-time brings home $15,080 each year before taxes.

“Working might eventually cover tuition at a two-year program,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center and the report’s lead author. “But the earnings aren’t sufficient to even get close to covering a private, four-year school.” 

While the idea of students working through college is not a new idea, with an estimated 80% of the college population also holding down jobs in the years leading up to 2008, researchers report that tuition has changed drastically, rising 46% between 2001 and 2012 to as high as $65,000.  It is unlikely that a student job could pay for tuition, and so these positions instead largely pay for student incidentals like textbooks and living or travel expenses, writes Sarah Grant for Bloomberg.

In addition, students have begun to use jobs to gain the skills necessary to begin their career after graduation.  “A college education used to guarantee students some kind of entry-level job, but that’s disappeared,” said Carnevale.

In fact, the study found that students who held jobs in their field of study ended up performing better in their college careers.  The problem, it seems, comes when students work too much, reports Stacy Rapacon for NBC News.

Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown center and co-author of the report, states that students who work longer hours tend to be less focused on their schoolwork and more likely to drop out of school.  In most cases she says, this affects disadvantaged students who are less likely to be willing to take out student loans and instead opt to work their way through college, looking at it as a less risky move.

According to the report, the optimum amount of time for students to work outside of school is 15 to 20 hours per week.  Anything above that can “harm academic performance.”  Authors suggest that students will be even more likely to succeed if that position is related to their educational experience through something like a paid internship.  Data analyzed for the study found that 63% of college graduates who had participated in paid internships received job offers.  By comparison, only 37% of graduates who had participated in unpaid internships had job offers.  The job offer rate for those who had no internship at all was found to be 35%.

“Students can’t work their way through college,” said Carnevale. “But they’re going to have to work.”