A review of the effects of student employment on academic achievement

A review of the effects of student employment on academic achievementBrett Perozzi, Amanda Rainey, & Zack Wahlquist2003-09-0115The CentrefalseCollege unions employ thousands of individuals pursuing higher education. Indeed, college unions are likely to be one of the top three employers of students on college campuses along with residence life and recreation departments. As major campus employers and as college union and student activities professionals, we need to be cognizant of the types of employment experiences that are most beneficial for our students and our organizations. This article examines research surrounding student employment and its effects on the achievement of students.

by Brett Perozzi, Amanda Rainey, and Zack Wahlquist

Alexander Astin (1993), Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), and others have written about many factors that influence the experience of students attending a college or university. The literature includes examinations of family background, political viewpoints, socioeconomic status, attitudes, values, and beliefs on the college experience. As a result of this work, much research has continued on a variety of factors that they identified as influential for students during the college experience. One such factor directly affecting college union personnel is student employment.

Several researchers have considered the effects of part-time student employment in contrast to full-time employment. Astin (1993) suggests that, in general, part-time, on-campus employment has positive effects on student development: higher grade point average (GPA), faster degree completion, and more frequent self-reported cognitive and affective growth. Other research has further explored the effects of employment on academic achievement in college, examining the effects of working different numbers of hours per week and/or on- or off-campus employment on student academic achievement (Canabal, 1998; Ehrenberg & Sherman, 1987; Ford & Bosworth, 1995; Furr & Elling, 2000; Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Pascarella, Bohr, Nora, Desler, & Zusman, 1994; Stern & Nakata, 1991; Van de Water, 1996). The information in this article can be used by college union and student activities administrators to develop their roles as both employers and educators on campus and by students employed in the union to better understand the possible outcomes of student employment. After defining the variables that affect academic achievement, current literature in these areas will be reviewed and discussed. Limitations in compiling these data are presented and implications for practice for union and activities professionals will be offered.

Definitions

Student employment is defined here as any type of noncredit-bearing activity in which students participate and for which they receive financial compensation. On-campus employment can be described as any form of employment that takes place on campus in which the university is the employer of the student. Conversely, off-campus employment is any form of employment not on campus property in which the university is not the employer of the student. Pascarella and associates (1994) define part-time employment as zero to 25 hours per week of paid activity, while full-time employment is defined as anything above 25 hours per week.

Defining academic achievement presents a more complicated challenge. Based on the research of others (Astin, 1993; Canabal, 1998; Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Perkins, Pitter, Wijesinghe, Howat, & Whitfield, 1999; Stern & Nakata, 1991; Van de Water, 1996), academic achievement is most easily measured by GPA. Other factors considered as components of academic achievement are student perceptions of achievement (Pascarella et al., 1994), the overall level of college engagement (Astin, 1993), and retention/completion rates (Ehrenberg & Sherman, 1987). Definitions vary case by case and were specific only to a few studies.

Limitations

Much of the data collected were nearly 10 years old and not compiled until the early to mid 1990s. These data and their proposed effects may be out of date or less applicable today than they were in the past. Current research is needed in this area for the data and implications to be up to ment was rarely established. Several articles (e.g., Astin, 1993; Canabal, 1998; Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Perkins et al., 1999; Stern & Nakata, 1991; Van de Water, 1996) used GPA as their definition of academic achievement, but others used less concrete identifiers such as student perceptions (Ford & Bosworth, 1995) or level of college engagement (Pascarella et al., 1994). The inconsistencies in defining and describing academic achievement made it difficult to draw comparisons between some data.date.

In the literature reviewed, a concise definition of academic achieve

•   Student staff members check out billiard balls at the Arizona State University Memorial Union    recreation center.

Literature review

Academic achievement of students can be affected by their working patterns (Astin, 1993; Canabal, 1998; Ford & Bosworth, 1995; Furr & Elling, 2000; Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Pascarella et al., 1994; Perkins et al., 1999; Stern & Nakata, 1991; Van de Water, 1996). A study by Canabal (1998) demonstrated a positive relationship between GPA and participation in the work force. Further, a similar study by Stern and Nakata (1991) found that students who do not work earned lower grades than students who work part-time.

While many studies demonstrate the positive effects of general student employment, other research findings report conflicting results. Ford and Bosworth (1995) found that the majority of students who are employed while in college indicate that their academic endeavors faced negative consequences directly due to their employment. These negative consequences included reduced time to study, missed assignments, and missed lectures. Further, Perkins and associates (1999) found that GPA dropped 0.03 points for every $1,000 earned while working in college for students ages 18–24. These findings of Perkins and associates (1999) that students who were employed during their college experience had lower GPAs than students who were not employed, contradicted the previous findings by Stern and Nakata (1991) and Van de Water (1996). Astin's (1993) research further indicated that students employed full-time while attending college are affected negatively in the following areas: degree completion, GPA, satisfaction with their college experience, enrollment in professional or graduate school, self-reported growth in cultural awareness, interpersonal skills, and knowledge in a specific field or discipline.

When considering the effects of student employment on academic achievement, the amount of time spent working is a determining factor on whether the overall effect of employment is positive or negative. In a study by Van de Water (1996), student grades tended to improve as students worked more hours per week, up to a total of 20 hours per week. After 20 hours of work, the number of hours worked had a negative relationship with GPA. In addition, students who worked 10–20 hours per week performed better academically than students who worked less than 10 hours, more than 20 hours, or not at all (Van de Water, 1996). Hood, Craig, and Ferguson (1992) substantiate Van de Water's (1996) findings in establishing that moderate participation in employment (defined as two to four hours per weekday) led to higher GPAs. Students who were not employed or worked more than four hours per weekday had, on average, lower GPAs (Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992).

Despite some positive academic effects of moderate employment, working during college can become detrimental to academic achievement if students spend too much time on the job during their college experience (Furr & Elling, 2000; Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Van de Water, 1996). Furr and Elling (2000) found that students who worked more than 20 hours a week during their undergraduate careers felt that their occupational workload interfered with their academic performance. In general, students working more than four hours per weekday, despite total number of hours worked per week, were found to achieve lower mean GPAs than students who worked fewer hours or did not work at all (Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992). Further, Astin (1993) found that working full-time during college implies a strong negative association with completing a bachelor's degree, earning a good college GPA, preparing for graduate school, and graduating with honors.

Many of the positive academic effects are attributed most directly to on-campus rather than to off-campus employment (Astin, 1993; Furr & Elling, 2000; Pascarella et al., 1994). Astin (1993) found a positive association between on-campus employment and attaining a bachelor's degree, self-reported cognitive growth, and improvement in GPA. These positive effects on academic achievement are believed to occur for on-campus employment because students are more likely to work in roles that relate to their academic field (Stern & Nakata, 1991) and to interact more frequently with the campus environment, fellow students, faculty, and administrators (Astin, 1993; Pascarella et al., 1994).

Interestingly, off-campus employment yields many negative academic results similar to those of working too many hours, regardless of the amount of actual time spent working at the off-campus site of employment (Astin, 1993). Work by Pascarella and associates (1994) established that employment off campus has a negative influence on year-to-year persistence in college and in completion of a bachelor's degree. In addition, students employed off campus tended to study less than their counterparts who were employed on campus or who were unemployed (Pascarella et al., 1994).

As college union and student activities professionals, the impact of student employment corresponds closely with our mission to provide a strong holistic education for all students. By reflecting on the development experiences offered through our employment opportunities, we can continue to improve the overall educational experiences of our student employees.

Discussion

While there is data to suggest that employment in general can have a positive effect on academic achievement, the type of employment in which students choose to engage and the amount of time spent working can have wide-ranging effects on student performance. As the costs of higher education continue to rise (Morgan, 2002), more and more college students are choosing to work during their college years. How does this escalating employment trend impact institutions of higher education, college unions, and student activities? How do the employment choices of students impact their academic achievement?

There are numerous employment opportunities available to college students. Many part-time students—and some full-time students—are employed full time while attending college. Some students choose to work part time, while some choose not to work at all. The choice of whether to work, how often to work, and in what environments, can have a significant impact on overall student performance. Findings support the idea that moderate campus employment of 10 to 20 hours of work per week can lead to higher academic achievement (Hood, Craig, & Ferguson, 1992; Van de Water, 1996). Students will want to carefully consider their college work arrangements as working too many hours can impede students from high academic achievement. Working an abundance of hours per week or per day can contribute to an overload on available time to study or to be engaged in the academic milieu of higher education, leading to decreased academic performance.

Students have two basic employment options while in college: to work on campus or in their surrounding communities. Some students choose to commute to jobs in their hometowns or nearby cities several miles from the campus center. In the on-campus environment students are more likely to be engaged in the overall thrust of the university, whereas off-campus employment may not offer the same types of opportunities for interaction and engagement. Many studies reviewed here contend that the results of off-campus employment do not contribute to the overall learning experience and higher academic achievement as do the results of on-campus employment. The likelihood of students interacting with their peers and faculty members outside of the classroom and discussing classes, learning objectives, etc., are greater when students work on campus. Research demonstrates that out-of-class interaction with faculty members and peers contributes to the development of general cognitive skills, and the choice of working on campus can positively impact learning outcomes of students (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Implications

The research indicates several implications about student employment and academic achievement for college union and student activities professionals.

College union and student activities professionals should market their student employment positions as valuable educational experiences (Mulugetta & Chavez, 1996). Because campus professionals must often compete with off-campus employers to attract student employees (Little & Chin, 1996), college union and student activities professionals could make a better case for their positions by informing potential employees of the educational and potential future occupational benefits of on-campus work as opposed to the potentially negative effects of off-campus employment. Clear descriptions of the benefits of on-campus employment may persuade students to give more consideration to on-campus positions regardless of the wage discrepancy that often exists between on-campus and off-campus employers.

College union and student activities professionals should be conscientious of the amount of time each student employee works. Much of the data support that working between 10 and 20 hours per week, and no more than four hours per day, yields the most academic success for students. Therefore, professionals may want to consider scheduling student employees to work a schedule that falls into this range of optimal academic productivity. Employers can explain the methods and considerations used in creating the work schedule to their employees, especially if students are requesting more than 20 or less than 10 hours per week.

Additionally, professionals in the field must remain committed to the academic success of their student employees and demonstrate the importance of academic achievement. During one-on-one meetings, supervisors have the opportunity to inquire about the academic progress of student employees. Professionals might consider offering incentives or staff recognition for outstanding or improved academic achievement of student employees. By making it clear to student employees that their major commitment should be to their own academic achievement, professionals can create a better learning environment for the student (Astin, 1993).

It is also important to be aware of students who are frequently covering additional shifts for colleagues or those who are frequently seeking assistance from others to cover missed shifts.

To determine how academically successful your union employees are in comparison to other students on your campus, aggregate achievement levels can be collected and compared among groups of students and/or employees. For example, a college union can gather the aggregate GPA data on its student employees and compare that to the all-campus GPA. Or, if available, comparisons can be made to the aggregate data of students who are employed in other departments on campus or who do not work at all.

Professionals also can use current research to demonstrate the importance of attractive wage structures and healthy environments for on-campus student employees while acknowledging the benefits of part-time on-campus employment despite potentially lower wage scales. Increased student learning and retention through high levels of campus employment can be a win-win situation.

As college union and student activities professionals, the impact of student employment corresponds closely with our mission to provide a strong holistic education for all students. By reflecting on the development experiences offered through our employment opportunities, we can continue to improve the overall educational experiences of our student employees.

There is clearly a need for additional research in areas of student employment and academic achievement. New studies that examine the correlation between numbers of hours worked per week and their effect on student academic self-efficacy, progression toward a degree, and a satisfactory college experience will strengthen the case for student employees in college unions. Additionally, this article did not address the reasons students choose to work on- or off-campus. Because of expanded opportunities for non-university-operated entities on campus, additional research is needed that distinguishes between on-campus employment where the university is the employer and on-campus employment where the university is not the employer. Research into work environments, wage competition, and job challenge can help union professionals to successfully recruit and retain good employees. Further opportunities for research within student employment could explore the intentional assignment of student employees to positions based on the demographic nature of the staff or supervisors and the intentional recruitment and placement of student employees into positions that match or expand their career goals. Many of these areas are unexplored or could benefit from current research. As an Association, ACUI has an opportunity to be a leader in these areas of research.

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Updated Nov. 9, 2012