A college degree brings with it the promise of a brighter future. And for many, a brighter future means finding a stable job with a sustainable income, or being able to advance in an existing career. However, postsecondary education, for many students, does not come cheap, and many students have to work while attending college.

A recently released report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) found that seventy percent of college students work while attending college. The report provides insights into the financial situations of students who take on these dual responsibilities.

“Today, almost every college student works, but you can’t work your way through college anymore,” said Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown Center and the report’s lead author. “Even if you work, you have to take out loans and debt.”

Not only are the majority of college students in America working, many of these students work full-time. The study revealed that forty percent of undergraduates and seventy-six percent of graduate students clock in at least thirty hours a week. Twenty-five percent of students attend both school and work full-time.

It is no surprise why most students work while attending college. Many students juggle multiple financial responsibilities; they need to pay for tuition and personal expenses and in many cases, provide for their families. Balancing multiple obligations can be overwhelming, potentially impacting students’ ability to complete a degree successfully.

However, as the Georgetown report shows, there is a bright side to working while in school. Students who work in their fields of study have better job prospects than students who don’t work at all. These students not only have the opportunity expand their professional network, they acquire valuable skills and experience that are not necessarily cultivated within the classroom.

But not all students are employed in areas that are relevant to their academic disciplines. Additionally, some colleges do not provide guidance to students for the transition from degree to career. In some cases, students graduate uncertain about the job options available to them as well as how to navigate the job search process.

The study proposes recommendations for higher education institutions, policymakers and employers to help students prepare for the workforce:

  •  Provide mandatory career counseling for students. Students should be provided information on the jobs and salaries they can expect with their chosen degree early-on in their educational career so that they can make informed decisions about their goals. This career counseling can be incorporated within the existing counseling systems at colleges.
  •  Invest in competency-based education (CBE) programs that reward students for the knowledge they have gained outside of the classroom. These programs provide students with credits based on their mastery of material and acquired skills rather than their “seat time” within a classroom. Additionally, it is a way to reward students for the skills they have gained on the job within their existing professions while accelerating their path to a certificate or degree.
  • Work with local businesses to provide their employees with tuition assistance. Employee tuition assistance programs allow employees to avoid accruing too much debt, while giving them the opportunity to continue building their work experience.
  •  Performance as opposed to enrollment-based funding should take precedence. Often colleges are awarded funds based on the number of students they enroll, but high enrollment does not mean students are completing their degrees successfully or securing jobs with sustainable incomes post-graduation. By evaluating the performance of postsecondary institutions based on employment outcomes, institutions can be held accountable for making sure students are career-ready by the time they graduate. Florida has enacted performance-based funding for public universities in the state that include such metrics.

With these policies in place, institutions can adapt their resources to meet the needs of today’s working student. Likewise, students can be confident that their degree has prepared them to meet the demands of the twenty-first century workforce.

Visit the CEW’s website to read the report in its entirety as well as view a video, slides and press release.

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