By Alan Viau
More post-secondary students than ever before are working at part-time jobs. As a result of the increasing costs of education, students work up to 20 hours per week. But is this a good thing or a bad thing?
For many of us in the late 70s, student life consisted of going to class, doing homework and then experiencing the university scene. Friday nights were usually spent at the campus disco trying to attract someone of interest. Other nights involved debating the merits of one theory over another or conjecturing solutions to world problems, over a beer or two of course.
I guess we can call them “the good old days” because back then only one in three students worked at a part-time job while at post-secondary school. By 2010, Statistics Canada reported one in two students were working. More recent studies in the UK found that two thirds of students are working there. Finally, one study in the U.S. this fall indicates that 80 per cent of students now hold part-time jobs of up to 20 hours per week! The trend is not encouraging.
The increasing cost of education is blamed for this situation. Students cannot make sufficient money during the summer months to cover all their post-secondary costs. In addition, it seems that parents are not as able as they once were to kick in supplementary funds. The US study says parents are now paying 27 per cent of a student’s costs, down from 37 per cent three years ago. The rest of the money comes from student loans or from increasingly scarce scholarships and grants.
What are the ramifications of this? Many studies have attempted to assess the impact of work on academic performance, the amount of time required to complete studies, student retention and personal stress. All agree that long work hours can interfere with school outcomes. There is less certainty with regards to low to moderate amounts of work.
Emily, a fourth-year student at the University of Ottawa, says jobs make doing school work more difficult. She has many assignments that require group work. Trying to juggle everyone’s schedule between school and work has them meeting on Sunday mornings to complete assignments.
The rising costs of living and student tuition mean students are shouldering increasing financial responsibility during their time at university. As a result, the choice of which post-secondary school to attend is increasingly driven by cost and not quality of education. This means more students are living at home while going to university or college.
Whether part-time work is good or bad is still an unanswered question. No doubt there is some impact on school outcomes. However, part-time jobs seem to be a reality for most of today’s students. I am saddened that the post-secondary experience has come down to this; a struggle to pay for an education that may or may not result in a job.