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Statistical Analysis Report:

Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Institutions: 1995-96: With an Essay on: Undergraduates Who Work

May 1998

(NCES 98-084) Ordering information

Executive Summary

In 1995-96, four of five undergraduates (79 percent) reported working while they were enrolled in postsecondary education. One-half of undergraduates reported working to help pay for their education (“Students Who Work”). Slightly less than one-third (29 percent) considered themselves primarily employees who were also taking classes (“Employees Who Study”).

Students Who Work differed markedly from Employees Who Study with respect to demographic characteristics, where they were enrolled, and whether they were enrolled full time or part time. Compared to Employees Who Study, Students Who Work tended to be younger, more often enrolled in 4-year colleges and universities, and were more likely to attend school full time. Employees Who Study, on the other hand, were enrolled primarily in 2-year institutions, most attended exclusively part time, and about one-quarter (24 percent) were 40 or older (figures 3 and 4).

This analysis focused on Students Who Work, for whom the impact of work on their education may have different implications. The primary reason these students work is to help them achieve their educational goals. If the amount they work has an adverse effect on their academic performance or impedes their progress toward attaining a degree, then the primary reason for working has been undermined.

Although Students Who Work were employed an average of 25 hours per week while enrolled, about one-quarter (26 percent) of these students worked full time (35 or more hours per week). Even among those who attended exclusively full time, almost one in five (19 percent) worked full time (table 1).

When asked how work affected their academic program, the more hours students reported working, the more likely they were to report that work limited their class schedules. For example, more than one-third (38 percent) of students who worked 21 to 34 hours reported work reduced their class choices, compared with less than one-quarter (16 percent) of students who worked 1 to 15 hours (table 4). Similarly, when students were asked how work affected their academic performance, a majority (55 percent) of those working full time reported that work had a negative effect, compared with 46 percent of students working 21 to 34 hours and 17 percent who worked 1 to 15 hours (table 5)./1/ Taken as a whole, more than one in four Students Who Work reported that work adversely affected their academic schedule or academic performance.

The relationship between work and one-year persistence was assessed among Students Who Work by determining who attended for a full academic year (i.e., eight or more months) in 1995-96 relative to the number of hours they worked while enrolled. The amount that students worked was clearly related to the number of months enrolled, especially among first-year stu-dents. About one in five first-year students who worked full time were not enrolled for a full academic year, compared with about one in twenty who worked 1 to 15 hours (figure 6). This pattern was found even after controlling for factors related to persistence such as attendance status, financial aid receipt, institution type, and income. The results also suggested that students who did not work at all while enrolled had higher rates of enrollment interruption than those working 1 to 15 hours.

When the work intensity of Students Who Work was analyzed relative to borrowing patterns, undergraduates who worked fewer hours were more likely to borrow than those working more hours. For example, nearly one-half (46 percent) of students working 1 to 15 hours per week borrowed, compared with about one-third of students working either 16 to 20 hours (36 percent) or 21 to 34 hours (36 percent) and about one-quarter of those working full time (table 6).

Students who work long hours may have more limited time not only for studying but also for integrating themselves into campus life. While borrowing results in debt that must be repaid when students finish their education, choosing to work intensively in lieu of any borrowing may adversely affect students’ academic performance, as well as reduce their chances of completing their degree altogether.

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