college students

Statistics For Working Students

“The number one reason students give for leaving school is the fact that they had to work and go to school at the same time and, despite their best efforts, the stress of trying to do both eventually took its toll.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published a report dispelling myths and offering the reality behind declining college completion rates. The research was based off of surveys that suggested that dropping out of school was a very prevalent consequence of working while attending college.

The study found that, “Balancing work and school was an even bigger barrier than finding money for tuition. Those who dropped out are almost twice as likely to cite problems juggling work and school as their main problem as they are to blame tuition bills (54 percent to 31 percent).”

Another major factor contributing to the major decline in college completion rates involves the cost of tuition. More students are either paying for their education entirely or are helping with the financial burden of tuition than in previous years.

This rise in student financial responsibility seems problematic as the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation study found that 6 out of 10 students who failed to earn a college degree said that they paid for their education independently and without the help of others, as compared to the 6 out of 10 who did graduate and stated that they had help with the cost of their tuition.

These statistics are troubling at a time when the value of obtaining a college degree may be at its highest point. In CNN’s article, “College degree seen as better investment than ever,” Andreas Schleicher, the education directorate of OECD, stated, “Probably in these times there is no better investment you can make than in your education. Rate of return is in the order of 10 to 15 percent. And then think about what other investments you can make these days where you get a similar rate of return.”

A survey conducted by Arizona State University found that holding a college degree not only impacts average salaries but also influences unemployment rates.

Education Pays Chart 2012

I started this blog to highlight the plight of the working college student, a very real struggle especially for those students who pull more than 20 hours a week at work while attending full time – but these statistics highlight the importance of completing the task at hand.

It is now more important than ever to stay the course and drudge through the sleepless nights and mental breakdowns that school and work can trigger. The struggle is real, but the reward is great. I know that I will personally be proud when I walk at my graduation, and know now that the odds are not in my favor to do so.

These statistics can either cause a sense of hopelessness in student workers, or can instill a sense of inspiration to fight the odds and succeed. I hope that they inspire my fellow working students to fight the odds and win.

It isn’t easy, but there is proof that it is worth the fight.


Tips for “Nontraditional Students.”

I’m passionate about advocacy for students who work full-time because I know first-hand what a challenge working while going to school can be. As a waitress pulling in sometimes 50 hours a week while attempting to get a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication, I’ve seen my fair share of all-nighters, ridiculous amounts of caffeine consumption, missing out on extra-curricular activities, and melt downs over scheduling conflicts.

“75% of undergraduate students are considered nontraditional students”- You Can Deal With It.

It turns out that most students can relate to these struggles. According to You Can Deal With It, a public service of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, 75% of undergraduate students are considered “nontraditional students.” Nontraditional students include students who do not immediately attend college, work full-time jobs, are financially independent, or have dependents of their own.  Some students fall into multiple categories within this definition.

It is an incredibly impossible struggle to be the best at everything. In the fight to memorize 50 definitions for a psychology class in the middle of working a 12-hour-mid-shift, something has to give. I personally calculated my suggested hours of study time, work schedule, factored in sleeping an average of five hours per night and found that I have exactly three hours of free time every week.  Three hours. Three hours to binge on Netflix, take an extra-long bath, read a book or go grocery shopping. With a portion of that three hours I have decided to compile a list of tips for students like me.

Tips for “nontraditional students”:

Student with laptop computer

Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360

  1. Be realistic. There are times when you need to have fun. There are also times when you are going to have to say no to an extra shift and focus on your school-work. When you are signing up for classes, be realistic with what you can actually handle.


    Photo courtesy of Mike Baird

  2. Take good care of your body. Going to school and working full time can be a marathon so you need to treat your body right. Nothing is worse than getting sick in the middle of finals week, especially when you throw work into the mix too. Eat healthy food and balanced meals, even when you want to go for the ice cream and potato chips. Sleep as much as you can. Take some time out for some personal care.

    Students gathered around laptop computer

    Photo courtesy of Parker Knight

  3. Be honest with your employer. I’ve been known to be a moody employee during midterms and finals, but my employer knows that of me- because I’ve warned him. I also don’t take the late shift unless I absolutely have to (8 a.m. is very early when you don’t get off work till 2 a.m.) Most employers are willing to work with hectic student schedules. If your employer can work with you, take advantage of it. If not, then I am truly sorry (and you may want to consider finding a new job.)

    A calander with sticky notes

    Photo courtesy of Seth Werkheiser

  4. Set goals for each day (or week.) Sit down with your calendar and plan out as much as you can so that you can successfully battle the beast known as procrastination. Setting daily, or weekly goals can help you stay focused and can keep you from missing important deadlines.

    Three women talking on the beach

    Photo courtesy of Chris Clogg

  5. Find someone you can talk to. I would recommend not making this person a student that does not have to work. That can get ridiculously frustrating, very quickly. Finding someone who can act as a sounding board and can talk you off a ledge or two will be your best shot at staying sane. It’s easy to fall into the deep end of despair in the middle of a busy work and school week. If you have a voice of reason reminding you of why you are going through this whole crazy situation, you will probably be able to keep your cool.

Ideas for students who need help paying for education

This short video describes options for students looking for financial aid or employment. It features websites where students can access a free application for federal student aid, and where Arizona State University students can search for on-campus and off-campus employment opportunities. Paying for education can be very difficult, but there are options to help make that burden manageable.

While the number of working college students is on the rise, one Phoenix, Ariz. full-time working student is finding ways to make it work.

Megan Templeton

Photo courtesy of Megan Templeton


While working 10-15 hours on campus is what most major universities recommend, there are some students who put in more time, even full-time hours, at work. A 2011 report by Jessica Davis for the United States Census Bureau found that of the 72% of college students who held jobs, 20% of them worked more than 20 hours a week. Megan Templeton is one of those students.

Studying full-time at Bryan University and putting in 40 hours a week as a server, Megan Templeton knows the difficulties of balancing school, work and life.

Templeton is a college senior studying Exercise Science. She has one remaining semester and is well seasoned in the art of multi-tasking and time-management.

Taking on 16 credit hours in a fast paced online module style of learning and working full-time hours can both physically and mentally overwhelming. Templeton noted some of the necessary compromises she has made.

“You loose your social life. I’ve lost my social life completely,” said Templeton.

It can be a struggle, but Templeton is optimistic of her future and finds positivity even in a difficult situation.

“It’s rewarding. Conquering both,” said Templeton. She says she will be proud of her accomplishments when she has graduated,  in a way that other students might not understand.

While the number of full-time working students is on the rise, the majority of students are either unemployed or work part-time hours. Templeton offered some advice to the smaller percentage.

“Be patient. Take advantage of the sleep while you can,” said Templeton. She also noted that exercise is a great stress reliever and has helped her through the difficulties of studying and working full-time.“Exercise gets me through a lot,” said Templeton.