Labor Pains

More and more students are working part- or full-time jobs while they complete their degree. What’s driving this financial choice, and how does it affect students’ scholastic success?

Thousands of students maintain a full or part-time job in addition to classes. Whether it be an internship, Federal Work Study, retail or restaurant job downtown, many at the College feel the overwhelming responsibility of student employment. Rent, parking, bills and groceries quickly add up. Unfortunately, this can prevent a student from focusing solely on their studies, especially when the need for employment arises from financial necessity. Even for those working by choice, a job imposes an unavoidable time-crunch.

Scholarships and need-based grants can often save a student from the burden of staying home and attending community college when the funds aren’t available. That being said, tuition is still on the rise every year. Whether you are part of the 69.4 percent of in-state students or the 30.6 percent out-of-state at the College of Charleston, you and your parents have likely taken out loans. The College offers need-based financial aid to 48 percent of full-time undergraduates. The average need-based scholarship or grant award is $2,609 – but can that make a significant impact for a student who pays over $30,000 or more in tuition per year? In the grand scheme of tuition, this solution doesn’t seem proportional to the need.

College attendance is a critical component of the modern American Dream. However, this is becoming increasingly more difficult for the average working-class family. Currently, Americans are suffering from 1.2 trillion dollars of student loan debt. Two thirds of all students will graduate with some sort of debt. On average, one in ten graduates will leave higher education and enter the workforce with an accumulated debt of nearly $40,000. These are stomach-turning statistics that help explain why nearly 70 percent of students have worked during college within the last 25 years.

How can students earn an income while also earning a degree?

Federal Work Study helps incoming students get acclimated to the college lifestyle, while also helping them to meet new people. Some of these jobs include working the front desk of student housing, within the dining halls or staffing an office on campus as a receptionist. In South Carolina, FWS provides students with tax breaks and other benefits, but earnings rarely exceed minimum wage.

Charleston has won numerous awards for its culinary scene, and it’s no wonder that the dozens of downtown restaurants rely heavily on student workers. The average food and beverage server, busboy or food runner in downtown Charleston can make anywhere from $14,000 to $24,000 per year. That is one hell of a payroll for a student, but don’t be hasty. According to Phoebe Gould, a current employee at Co Thai Cuisine, she works about 25-30 hours a week. Her shifts usually start early in the morning and go until later that afternoon or night if she is working a double shift. The lifestlye is “as time-consuming as you want it to be, and I would recommend a food and bev job to other students because it helped me with time-management. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people,” said Gould.

The Race for Experience

Today, 75 percent of students complete internships before they graduate to gain some hands-on experience in their chosen field. Although internships have great advantages, a 2016 National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) study showed that 46.5 percent of internships are unpaid. A Google poll among College of Charleston students found that 72 percent of students had unpaid internships.

Multiple experts have noted that internships exacerbate inequality between privileged students and those who come from lower-income families. If an internship is unpaid, students who pay their own rent or are working their way through college will probably not pursue it. Unpaid internshhips make a huge difference in future opportunies, but they inherently favor students of wealth.

The Bottom Line

Students know that a college education is almost irreplaceable in terms of the job opportunities it can provide. However, its no secret that college is becoming more of a financial epidemic in the mind of today’s students rather than a signifier of success.


*This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.

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