Many students, parents, and educators have been seeking the so-called Holy Grail of learning for many decades. One question that has arisen out of this learning model is that of student employment? Many wonder if working a part-time job will affect a student’s grades, and if so, how much? The answer to this seemingly simply question, however, is more complex. A variety of factors must be considered when deciding if and to what extent a student’s grades are affected by his or her employment status.
In recent years, the concept of the full-time student seems to be disappearing. From about age sixteen, an overwhelming majority of students, both high school and college, work while they attend school. This average is about 85% for most college students (Bradley, 2006). However, high costs everything from apparel to tuition drives these workers into their part-time jobs which are generally retail and service related businesses for an average of fifteen hours per week (Bradley, 2006).
Generally, most studies do identify some differences in academic performance and attitude, but these differences are not as great as people once may have believed. Generally, studies find very few basic differences between working and non-working students, especially in college. However, the intensity of the job and the number of hours worked did seem to affect academic performance in many students at the high school level.
Generally longer hours meant more stressors on the individual and had a negative affect on their grades, which translates into about a half of a grade point average(GPA) point lower than not working students or students who work only a few hours, perhaps on the weekends (Weller et al, 2003). Oettinger (1999) also found this to be true, and noted that minority students tended to be more affected by the GPA drop than white students. He noted his drop in GPA to be about . 20 points and to be most obvious in students working more than twenty hours per week.
These studies corroborates a study done nearly twelve years earlier in which the researchers found, similarly, that students who put in longer hours at their jobs suffered lower grades, higher absenteeism, and less interest in school in general which was seen in negative behaviors while in school (Perils of Part-time Work for Teens, 1991). At the college level, these differences were less noticeable. Ironically, Bradley (2006) found that the grade point averages were highest for students who did not work AND for students who worked more than twenty hours per week.
This seems to contradict the research done on high school students, suggesting that maturity and attitude may also play a part in the employment/grades debate. Research has also been conducted on academic attitude and perception as they relate to grades. In high school, students who worked longer hours did not seem to have much distress about their grades as a result of the employment: “Those who had jobs displayed no advantage over the others in self-reliance, self-esteem or attitude toward work” (Perils of Part-time Work for Teens, 1991).
In addition, students who worked even seemed to report less school stress, possible because they had less interest in school, as mentioned above. Moreover, researchers explain this more blase attitude toward schools by the findings that students who worked were more likely to report avoiding difficult classing, cheating on exams, and copying homework from friends (Weller et al, 2003; Perils of Part-time Work for Teens”, 1991). This was not the case for university students.
In college, students who worked perceived that their employment DID affect their grades even when the researchers found little or no interest in grades between non-workers and workers at the college level. Both working and non-working college students showed a high level of interest in their grades and expressed an overall desire to achieve a high level of academic performance. Students who did not work stated that did not do so in order to focus on their studies, and they believed that their studies benefited from this extra time.
Again, though, the studies showed no difference in the GPAs of working and non-working college students (Bradley, 2006). Instead many researchers ponder how college students who work so many hours are able to keep similar GPAs to those that do not work. Bradley (2006) suggests that nonworking students may be spending similar time with other activities such as sports, extracurricular clubs, or even caring for dependents at home. He also proposes that the non-working students and the working students may be approaching homework and study in different ways.
He notes that non-working students “may be most likely to adopt a ‘deep’ learning style, characterized by intrinsic interest in the subject content and a desire to maximize understanding of this content” and that working students “may be more likely to adopt an ‘achieving’ style aimed at maximizing grades through the effective use of space and time. ” These learned differences could certainly account for the way different students juggle the demands of work.
It is certainly helpful to note when employment can be an effect socialization tool aimed at building strong character and organizational skills and when it can be a definite academic detriment. Research shows that more differences exist for high school students than for college students, and that the majority of the college differences exist only in perception, not in actuality. This gives rise to the possibility of further research which could focus on the characteristics of working students who do keep their GPAs high.