DU students working their way through college

College freshman Adriana Vega at her on-campus job at the Office of Academic Assessment.

A college education is one of the best investments of a lifetime.  However, as the financial burden of college tuition is significant and rising, working has become a necessity for many students in higher education today.

But the extent of working while in college raises important questions. In particular, what is the overall effect of work? Does it have a beneficial effect in the long run by building discipline and a strong work ethic in students, or does it have a negative effect by diverting students’ efforts from schoolwork?

According to the University of Denver Office of Student Employment, there are currently 1016 students employed on campus receiving funds through the Federal Work Study program which provides funds for part-time employment to help students finance the cost of their post-secondary education. However, not all on-campus jobs are work-study, as the university’s various departments can also hire students from their own budgets.

A triple burden

For the students who can’t afford not to work, the college experience turns into a triple burden of handling school, work and social life. The effects of dealing with this can go in various directions.

Hours spent at work can take time away from studying – which may lead to lower grades, which can mean taking a longer time to graduate and less attractive post-college opportunities. Is it as easy to say that the more time a student devotes to employment, the less time he or she has for either academic or social activities?

Nineteen-year old freshman and physics major Adriana Vega is employed as a student research assistant in the university’s Office of Academic Assessment. Working six hours a week, Vega has the opportunity to pick and choose times that work best around her class schedule.

Understanding employers

“The office is very flexible with times. I have no trouble scheduling my work around class time,” says Vega.

If Vega needs more time for her school work, i.e. when assignments are due or during finals week, taking some extra time off is not a problem. “They are very supportive of my studies,” Vega says.

Even though there is no apparent connection between her studies and her on-campus job, Vega welcomes the opportunity to gain work experience.

“The things I learn in the office can come in handy at times,” she explains.

Gaining work experience that helps them in the classroom or in the labor market after college is the positive side of devoting time to work as one tries to get through college. Working helps students develop time-management as well as important interpersonal and prioritizing skills.

Combining work and study

Graduate student Chloe Campbell is now in her fifth year as a library assistant at Penrose Library. Twenty-four hours a week, Monday through Thursday, she works at the main information desk helping people to find and check out books and other materials.

As an undergraduate she arranged her work around her class schedule. As s a graduate student, with class only three times a week, she has time to fit more work into her schedule. However, Campbell says “school is always the priority – for me and for my employer.”

Being a Library and Information Science major, 22-year old Campbell is exactly where she wants to be.

“I specifically chose working at Penrose because of my plans to become a librarian,” she says. “I earned a lot of work experience so far and it has also been helpful for my academics, as I already knew material that was taught in class because of my work at Penrose.”

Money keeps being the main motivation

As beneficial as her work might be to her academics, Campbell’s main motivation to work while attending college, is still money. “I would not be able to attend DU, if I didn’t work.”

Kathleen Redmond finds time for her homework in between going to work and her classes.

22-year old senior Kathleen Redmond finds herself in a similar situation. Since fall 2008 she has been working as an undergraduate supervisor at the Penrose library stacks. She used to be able to organize her work hours around her study time, but as her financial situation has changed, she is now reliant on working up to 40 hours a week.

“I learned how to be efficient and use my time wisely. With the amount of hours I work and all the other things I want to do with my life, I have to be. It’s not easy, but I can always make it work,” Redmond says.

The positive effect for her is that the transition into the ‘real world’ after she graduates will not be as difficult.

“The only thing that will change for me is that I don’t have any more classes,” she says.

Suffering from sleep problems and a constant high stress level show however, that at one point, student employment can shift from being beneficial to being counterproductive.

“It became hard for me to justify taking time off and don’t do anything. The focal point of my life has become working instead of actually living my life,“ Redmond says. “If I had other options, I wouldn’t work as much as I do now. It’s a necessity.”

One Response to DU students working their way through college

  • Ann Monaghan
    Ann Monaghan says:

    I think you did a really good job overall, but especially in the introduction to your article. It was simple, yet effective in letting the reader know what the main point of your article was from the start, and making us want to read on. I thought the topic you picked was relevant and interesting. I also thought you chose really great photos and did a good job of breaking the article down using the subheadlines.

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