Report: ‘Colleges Need to Better Inform Students of Tradeoffs Between...

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Report: ‘Colleges Need to Better Inform Students of Tradeoffs Between Working and Learning’

By Sydney Johnson     Aug 31, 2018

Report: ‘Colleges Need to Better Inform Students of Tradeoffs Between Working and Learning’

It’s no secret that most people can’t work their way through college anymore. And while many students still juggle a job, a new report highlights why that’s even tougher for those who are low-income.

“Low-income working learners are going to school more and working more hours, yet struggling to make it,” the report, which was released on Tuesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, states. “They have been failed by an education system that perpetuates intergenerational inequality.”

Compared with their higher-income peers, low-income working learners are more likely to work full time and take jobs that interfere with their studies. The report suggests low-income students “are more vulnerable to experiencing declining grades when the average number of hours they work approaches or exceeds 40 hours per week.”

“Education is supposed to be the leveling factor,” Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown Center and a co-author of the report, told MarketWatch. Yet when students have to work this much, “this is a race that you can never win, the odds are stacked against you.”

Low-income working students are more likely to come from underrepresented backgrounds in higher-ed, including black and Latino students, those who are first in their family to go to college, or students for whom English is not their first language. Women are also more likely than men to be low-income and working while in college.

Meanwhile, the report shows that 73 percent of higher-income working students are white.

Source: Carnevale and Smith, “Learning While Earning,” 2016; Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2012–2015 (pooled data); Carnevale et al., Learning While Earning, 2015; and US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), 2012.

Working full-time also leads to low-income students being less likely to attend college overall. According to the study, 83 percent of higher-income students enrolled in college in 2015, and compared to 69 percent of low-income students.

Wealthier students often land higher-paying jobs and internships in lucrative fields. Around 14 percent of higher-income students work in STEM fields or business, for example. Yet only 6 percent of low-income students do, and these students are more likely to work in food service or administrative roles.

“Work experience in [food service or administrative] jobs provides basic skills like conscientiousness and teamwork,” the report reads, “but does not provide the deeper technical and general skills that foreshadow good career entry-level jobs.”

Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce also included a set of recommendations for schools and policymakers hoping to improve the situation for students who are pitted between their education and work responsibilities. The paper urges colleges to better inform students about trade-offs around working while in school, and finding work that will support a student’s educational and career goals.

It also calls for more investment in career counseling and youth apprenticeships starting at the K-12 level.

The report reads: “We can erase these counterproductive divides by building a superhighway from high school to college, career, and lifelong learning with multiple pathways to adulthood and no educational or career dead ends.”

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