By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
When high school students imagine college, they often think of the carefree worlds portrayed in film and television: constant partying, sleeping in, and the occasional good-humored shenanigans that make the transition between adolescence and adulthood a little bit easier.
What they never envisioned, however, would be applying for an endless list of part-time jobs posted on and off-campus.
Students are introduced to the grim picture of juggling academics, extracurriculars, and the inevitability of eventually working at an on-campus job that they either tolerate or loathe entirely just to earn a little extra cash and a significant experience on a resume.
And the little pay they receive is not enough. With tuition rates continuing to rise, it is difficult for students to continue to apply and pay off loans — and the debt that follows close behind.
“Over the past 20 years, tuition at public and private universities has jumped by over 150%, while the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 for almost a decade,” The New York Times’ Rainesford Stauffer wrote in 2018.
A college education is truly a self-investment when it reflects a highly competitive job market. However, this investment is an expensive one.
While colleges do manage to provide students opportunities to help around campus to gain experience in the workforce, such as federal and non-federal work study programs, they do not offer as much financial compensation to their students to help save away enough money. Especially with the rising cost of tuition, it is oftentimes a necessity to work throughout the year to make college possible. In this regard students are left to their own devices.
“Too many students are in the position of having to make that call on their own,” Stauffer said. “Almost a third of students who take out loans drop out before completing their degree.”
Despite students demonstrating the initiative to find jobs to help cover even the smallest fraction of the cost, a majority are faced with such financial burdens that they are forced to either chose between pursuing higher education — where the student loan debts will continue to pile up with each level completed — or, to work full-time hours at a part-time job to save up.
“Even full-time work may not completely cover the cost of tuition and living expenses — if a student worked a full-time job at the federal minimum wage, they would earn just over $15,000 each year, certainly not enough to pay for tuition, room, and board at many colleges without some serious financial aid,” The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White wrote in 2015.
“This means that though they’re sacrificing time away from the classroom, many working students will still graduate with at least some student-loan debt…working full-time can shrink the chance that students will graduate at all, by cutting into the time available for studying and attending classes,” she said.
Dropping out of college to pursue a dead-end job over education that could help secure better job opportunities for graduates should not be the answer; instead, colleges should take the same initiative students are taking when approaching new part-time positions and pay students a proper amount of money to better boost their students’ repertoire in their selected field so they can enter the workforce properly and head-on.
This will not only help students earn a stable amount of money every one to two weeks, but also to encourage them to keep reaching for off-campus experiences for their respective fields of study, and experience firsthand the values and routines of the workplace they will soon be entering.
“Such jobs can also be critical for developing important professional and social skills that make it easier to land a job after graduation,” White said. “With many employers looking for students with already-developed skill sets, on-the-job training while in college can be the best way to ensure a gig later.”
Colleges and universities have to prioritize affordability, but maintaining the balance between student and college contributions will not only help provide students the opportunities they need to gain other outside experiences, but also provide a little extra change in their pockets as they enter the challenging world of the workforce that awaits them.