The Effects of College Student Employment
on Academic Achievement

By: Lauren E Watanabe
Mentor: Jana Jasinski

Review of Literature

"As money and resources become more scarce for college students, jobs become more of a necessity rather than an after school activity. Any changes to students' routines will lead to changes in academics, whether they are positive or negative. "

Employment among college students has been increasing rapidly. Its effect on the academic performance of students has been questioned by many researchers (Green, 1987). Some of the issues raised in the literature concern matters such as the number of hours worked, whether or not the students' jobs pertain to their majors, and the students' workloads. As more students are employed, they face having to balance their academic requirements, extracurricular activities, and employment responsibilities to maintain their lifestyles (Furr & Elling, 2000). The literature reviewed below examines how employment has affected academic achievement.

Much of the research indicating that employment negatively affects students' academic achievement stated that an increase in the amount of hours worked was the most influential factor. In one study, more hours worked decreased the likelihood of being an 'A' student (Pritchard, 1996). According to Furr and Elling (2000), 29% of the students working 30-39 hours per week and 39% of those students working full time indicated that work had a negative and frequent impact on their academic progress. Those who take on part-time jobs are less engaged in school before they enter the labor force, and part-time employment, 'especially for more than 20 hours weekly, further exacerbates this problem' (Steinberg et al., 1993, p. 175). Furr and Elling (2000) also found that upperclassmen worked more hours than freshmen, indicating that the older students would be more likely to suffer in their academics. Therefore, working full time has an even greater impact on academics because, often times, working 40 or more hours further decreases a student's college grade point average (GPA) and is negatively related to completion of a bachelor's degree (Astin, 1993). The act of balancing school work with the labor market may also lead students to put forth less effort into both because they are spreading themselves 'too thin' (Astin, 1993). According to these researchers, it is not the job itself that causes the problems, but the overload on the amount of time worked because 'students who work more hours each week ' spend less time on homework, [and] pay attention in class less often'' (Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991, p. 307).

Not all of the research has shown negative GPA effects from the amount of hours a student is employed. Some findings indicated that employment had either a positive effect or none at all. A number of researchers, for example, found that hard work built stronger academic character because it taught the students time management skills, gave them experience outside of the classroom, and provided them with more satisfaction in college (Pennington, Zvonkovic, & Wilson, 1989). Dallam and Hoyt (1981) suggested that a good balance between students' credit hours and working hours forced students to be more organized and to have better time management. They also found that students who worked between 1 and 15 hours per week showed a slightly higher GPA than those whose workloads were heavier and those who were not working at all (Dallam & Hoyt, 1981; Li-Chen & Wooster, 1979). Not only were higher GPAs found in students that maintained jobs, but Green (2001) also stated 'that they had gained job skills, experience, knowledge of a variety of jobs, a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of responsibility, and money for personal and school expenses' (p. 329). Other researchers, when comparing high and low academic performance and the amount of hours students worked, found that the amount of hours employed did not have an adverse effect on their academics (Pinto, Parente, & Palmer, 2001). Similarly, Watts' (2002) analysis of 19 students at the University of Brighton found that 4 of 12 working undergraduates said that working did not affect their academics and 5 said that it actually had a positive impact. Although some of the previously mentioned studies used samples of high school students rather than undergraduates, their results were consistent. The fact that some contained samples of less than 50 students, however, may have accounted for some of the differences between the positive and negative academic results.

Not accounting for the amount of time actually put into the job, researchers have found that the type of employment a student holds has an impact on academics. Dead-end jobs such as a cashier or fast food worker tend to have a negative effect (Li-Chen & Wooster, 1979), whereas high-quality, part-time jobs that seemed to develop career-related skills may in effect contribute to increased levels of 'career maturity,' and these types of jobs are more likely to be flexible and work with students' schedules (Healy, O'Shea, & Crook, 1985). These types of jobs allow for hands-on experience that cannot be gained in the classroom alone. For example, of the 600 full-time students at Lamar University surveyed, 91 out of 215 students whose jobs related to their majors had a mean GPA of 2.98, while those whose jobs were career unrelated had a mean GPA of 2.66 (Li-Chen & Wooster, 1979). Also, student comments suggested that employment related to a potential career provided additional experience. For example, 10 out of 23 comments of a 120 nursing student survey at a university indicated that they were 'gaining more practical experience . . .' and that 'as all [their] employment is in care areas, [they felt] it [had] extended [their] experience' (Lee, 1999, p. 448).

As money and resources become more scarce for college students, jobs become more of a necessity rather than an after school activity. Any changes to students' routines will lead to changes in academics, whether they are positive or negative. Though the research results were not always consistent, it was a common theme that the more hours worked led to decreased academic performance, but that working in general did not necessarily have a negative effect on grades. When it came to students' jobs as they applied to their majors, the effects were positive in that they provided experience beyond the classroom (Lee, Mawdsley, & Rangeley, 1999). The following study will look at these variables as well as class standing, the amount of credit hours taken, and flexibility of the work schedule in order to determine the positive or negative relationship of working and academics. Other variables, such as demographic factors, will also be examined.

Hypotheses >>