Gail MarksJarvis: Working during college doesnít always pay, study says

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

November 2, 2015

There was a time when students could work their way through college and end up with a four-year degree and no debt. But not anymore.

"You have to work, but itís not going to pay for college," said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown Universityís Center on Education and the Workforce.

And while all students have it tough, the report found that disadvantaged college students with jobs are in an even more precarious situation because too often they take full-time jobs that interfere with their chances of launching a better career later.

Low-income students, especially low-income African-Americans and Hispanics, experience the worst effect of working during college, said the report, which came out this week. They work full time because theyíre afraid of taking loans, and consequently their studies suffer, they donít have time to complete an internship that would help them after college and their dropout rate is high.

The problems for many working students are the amount of time spent working, the types of jobs they take and the pay they earn.

In the 1970s, Carnevale said, male students could make enough in a summer job at a factory or doing physical work to pay for college. Female students did not have as many options. Factory and other high-paying summer jobs began to disappear in the 1980s, and college costs began to skyrocket. In the last decade, the cost of attending college has climbed 56 percent, more than double the inflation rate.

Now, half of working students are in food services and sales ó jobs with flexibility to allow studies but with minimum-wage pay, Carnevale found. Earning $15,080 a year is below the poverty level and canít come near covering the annual costs of tuition, fees, housing, food and transportation.

According to College Board data, the average cost of attending a state university in a studentís home state totaled $23,400 for the 2014-15 school year. Private colleges were running about $46,300.

Consequently, Carnevale found, about 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week while also taking out loans to pay for college.

"They are maxed out, and parents are maxed out," he said. "Iím not sure how much more they can take."

Studies by other researchers have shown that some kind of job during college is useful to students, and Carnevale noted that 85 percent of students who depend on their parents for financial support work at least part time. According to the studies, moderate amounts of work reduce borrowing and can teach students to manage their time and excel more at school. A previous study done by professors Lauren Dundes and Jeff Marx of McDaniel College in 2006 indicated that students who work less than 15 to 20 hours typically report higher grades in college than those who donít work.

But working more than that can exhaust students, interfere with their studies and lead to high dropout rates, concerns that Carnevale says are not adequately explained to students. Most importantly, he said, students who work full time donít have the leeway in their schedules to get the types of internships that will advance their careers after college.

Quality internships are becoming essential, he said, and highly selective colleges are competing by promoting internships related to their studentsí fields of study. Research by the Economic Policy Institute found that half of college seniors have completed internships, and graduates with paid internships receive starting average annual salaries of $52,000, while those without internships started jobs after college at $37,000, Carnevale said.

He also found that 63 percent of college graduates with a paid internship received job offers, compared with 35 percent of graduates who had no internship.

Carnevale encouraged students to consider taking out more loans rather than working too much. At the same time, though, he said students must match their level of borrowing to the careers they envision. A student who expects to go into early childhood education needs to limit borrowing because average annual pay is $39,000, he has found. Petroleum engineers can stretch further with loans because salaries average $136,000.

Research from the College Board suggests a rule of thumb: Keep monthly loan payments at 8 percent of monthly salaries.