Data Show Increases in Hours Worked Not Keeping Pace With College Costs

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff
While the number of college students who work part- or full-time while enrolled has increased, their earnings no longer keep up with the rising cost of college, making it more difficult for them to pay for their education, according to new data from the Urban Institute. 
In 2011-12, 66 percent of undergraduates held either part- or full-time jobs while enrolled. Among full-time enrolled students, 43 percent worked part-time and 19 percent worked full-time in 2011-12. Sixty-one percent of dependent students and 64 percent of independent, full-time, full-year students were employed, earning an average of $3,300 for dependent students and $8,000 for independent students. 
While research suggests that working up to about 15 hours a week does not negatively impact a full-time student’s academic performance, the rise in college costs and concurrent decline in the minimum wage means that their earnings make less of an impact on their college bills, which can be especially difficult for low-income students who often have to work to help with college and family expenses. For example, a student in the ‘60s or ‘70s working a total of 800 hours per year at the minimum wage could earn enough to cover tuition, fees, and most of room and board charges at the average public, four-year institution. Today, the “same amount of work at the minimum wage [$7.25 per hour at the federal level] would now cover about one-third of the average public four-year college published charges,” according to the Urban Institute.
So where are students getting the money to pay for college? Not surprisingly, many are borrowing student loans. According to the Urban Institute, about 40 percent of undergraduate students each year borrow federal student loans, and about 70 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with education debt. 
The good news, however, is that the number of students borrowing to pay for college and the average amount they have borrowed has dropped significantly since 2009-10, and the number of undergraduates borrowing has declined since 2011-12 after nearly a decade of increases due in part to the Great Recession. The Urban Institute’s data show that in the last few years less than 40 percent of all undergraduate students have taken out student loans, and the average amount of debt has declined since its peak in 2009-10 when it was $2,600. Students also rely on financial aid from the Federal Work-Study program (FWS), which resulted in about $1.1 billion in student earnings in 2015-16, an average of about $1,700 per students. 


Publication Date: 4/6/2017

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