Haley Turner, Communications Assistant for The Hope Center for College, Community & Justice
In beginning of my first semester freshman year of college, one of my first priorities was to find a job.
I was relieved to land a job as a lifeguard at our on-campus swimming facility. Through a combination of that position, waitressing and a great internship, I was able to afford four years of undergraduate study. Being able to work paying jobs through college provided me with the finances that I needed for extra food and activities to enjoy my friends on the weekends. However, not all college students have their living expenses paid for by their parents like I did. Additionally, not all college students are provided the time or the opportunities to secure paying jobs for college expenses. The onset of the pandemic has further complicated this problem.
When the pandemic struck early last year, campuses opened and closed and many students who relied on their on campus jobs suddenly lost them and the money to fund their educations. The Hope Center’s #RealCollege During the Pandemic report surveyed students from 54 colleges and universities across the nation to assess how the pandemic has impacted them and their college experience. One out of three students surveyed told researchers at The Hope Center that they lost their job due to the pandemic. Additionally, students who lost their jobs were experiencing basic needs insecurities at a higher rate; they worried about eating and where they could sleep at night. This is a major problem and emphasizes how important it is to give students access to paying jobs while they’re in school.
While I was working as a waitress in my undergrad years, my coworkers and I always had conversations about our tips and how much we hoped to earn each night. For me, the tip money was for bonus spending money, but other servers relied on those tips for groceries, rent payments, and gas. In addition to the stress of trying to make enough tips for living expenses, most of my coworkers were full time students as well. Especially during the pandemic, balancing work, school, and life in general is a stressful experience for many students.
Right now, I am back at my parents’ house studying at Temple University to get my Master’s Degree in Communication for Development and Social Change. As a full-time grad student, who works and babysits every week, it is often hard to find my work-life balance. And as a student worker at The Hope Center, I know the facts: At least one in five students today are parenting students. Many students have family members to care for when they are not studying. Students working off-campus jobs have requirements from their bosses to work certain hours. All of this is compounded by being enrolled in advanced classes. It’s hard to imagine adding the stress of food and housing insecurity on top of that; but, for many students those needs are a daily dose of stress.
Greta Anderson wrote in an Inside Higher Ed piece that “students with work-study jobs have unmet financial needs to cover expenses associated with attending college, and some are recipients of federal Pell Grants, which is an indicator of low-income status.” Students need paying jobs to cover their college expenses and more. This is especially true for #RealCollege students with needs.
Federal work-study is a financial aid program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that is allowing colleges to continue to pay their students with federal funding through the pandemic. However, colleges and universities across the country are following these guidelines in different ways. In some cases, this includes only students who are approved by their supervisors to be paid, leaving a number of working students unpaid in a global pandemic.
Many colleges have not been able to adapt to our new reality in a way that supports the students in need at their institutions. Even pre-pandemic, work-study jobs aren’t the most reliable form of income for many students. Students who are eligible for work-study jobs aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get them. And once they get them, the job isn’t guaranteed from year-to-year. An article by Matt Krupnick in The Washington Post explains that any pay a student receives from a non-work-study job counts against the student when the college is determining financial aid for the following year. So clearly, the system is not without its faults; you can work hard and receive less support.
The Hope Center’s During the Pandemic report collected testimonies from college students across the country. Many had something to say about working while in college during the pandemic. Here is what a few of them had to say:
“Adults returning to college need more assistance. Single people can’t afford to keep their full time jobs and go to school, and financial aid calculates my need assuming that I’ll continue working a 65 hour per week job while going to college full time. I need more help.”
“I am having to leave my full-time salaried position with my current employer and find part time work just to focus on my studies to continue to receive my academic scholarship… I would say financial stress/burden is what is causing the most struggle for me personally right now.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about financial issues and how college tuition and books are going to be paid. there’s also a lot of uncertainty about jobs and hours, because most people have either lost their jobs or have an extreme decrease in hours.”
Students are making it clear that they are struggling financially, and they need support. Sarah Brown wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education that a job is the only way to afford college for many students. These are uncertain times, and for many institutions, providing paying jobs for their students is likely not at the top of their priority lists. But students’ needs are important to successful degree completion and many rely on the income of a paying job because far too often, financial aid just isn’t cutting it.
Resources to further understand students’ jobs during the pandemic & supporting #RealCollege students who lost their jobs
- #RealCollege During the Pandemic Report
- #RealCollege Statement on the Consolidated Appropriations Act
- #RealCollege During the Pandemic: Preview of Fall 2020 Survey Findings
- The Hope Center Calls on Congress to Immediately Invest in #RealCollege Students with Additional Emergency Aid Funding
- #RealCollege During the Pandemic: Initial Institutional Responses to Address Basic Needs Insecurity
- Surviving COVID-19: A #RealCollege Guide for Students
- Supporting Students with Access to SNAP
- Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions to Implement Federal Guidance on SNAP Expansion for College Students During COVID-19
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