“The importance of financial affairs to college students was starkly demonstrated in a report by the Higher Education Authority published in 2001, which showed that over 40% of students in Irish Institutes of Technology who were surveyed ended up dropping out of their course due to financial problems”
With costs of rent and living rising, many students around the world now turn to part-time work during term time to finance their studies and their lives outside of college. Working during the college term is controversial, as some argue that the time taken to do this work necessarily detracts from academic performance.
However, the research on the impact of part-time work on the student experience shows that there are both positive and negative aspects to the practice. The amount of time devoted to the job appears to be a key factor in how work will impact a student’s academic performance and general experience of college: a low to medium number of hours generally has a positive impact, whereas a high number of hours (usually over 16 hours) tends to have a negative effect.
The importance of financial affairs to college students was starkly demonstrated in a report by the Higher Education Authority published in 2001, which showed that over 40% of students in Institutes of Technology ended up dropping out of their course due to financial problems. Clearly, earnings from a part-time job help to alleviate concerns like these, leading many students who are in a precarious financial situation to work part-time jobs on the side.
Students who do not necessarily need the money to stay in college but want some money to spare also often work part-time jobs. The Eurostudent Report 2005 by Hochschul Information Systems Hannover revealed that 69% of Irish college students worked in some capacity during term time.
This onus being put on students to work during term time has been criticized by some for the detrimental impact they expect it to have on students’ grades. On the surface, it seems logical to say that there is a necessary trade-off between work and academic performance – time spent working at a job necessarily cannot be spent studying or doing assignments.
However, studies that have analyzed the empirical impact of working on student grades have painted a more complicated picture. The National Centre for Education Statistics in the US found that students working 1–15 hours per week had a higher grade point average than students who did not work, or students who worked over 16 hours a week.
Benefits of working
The potentially positive impact of part-time work on grades is initially surprising. However, it seems that the experience of having a job can put students in the correct “mindset” to put in the effort needed to do well in their exams and assignments.
It is also possible that having a work rota to organize college work around makes students more focused and more likely to formally set aside time for study and assignment work, which may lead to higher grades compared to students doing that work on a more ad hoc basis.
The alternative explanation is that those students who choose to do part-time work during college tend to be more hard-working in general, and that both their decision to work and their high grades are a side-effect of their hard-working personality, as opposed to one having an effect on the other.
It seems that only when a high number of hours per week are worked do students start to lack sufficient time to study or complete their assignments, and it is at this point that their grades begin to suffer. Tiredness and stress from the extra workload may also impact student performance.
Overall, it seems that working part-time in college can potentially be a positive experience, although students should be careful to avoid the pitfalls associated with devoting too much of their time to work.
However, considering the financial pressures that many students are under, tightly controlling workload in order to ensure that work does not have a bad impact on grades may be a luxury that not all students who are obliged to work will be able to avail of.
The need for students to be able to carefully control hours worked to ensure that their work does not have a negative effect on their academic performance is something that colleges, governments and employers must take into account when setting policy in regards to this issue.