How Can Colleges Build a Better Future for Work-Study?

Future of Work

How Can Colleges Build a Better Future for Work-Study?

By Sydney Johnson     Mar 12, 2019

How Can Colleges Build a Better Future for Work-Study?

Los Angeles, CA—On-campus jobs have long offered a way for students to help students pay for college. But how can these gigs—which could range from data-entry to dining hall service—better prepare students for their careers and keep them in school?

A new report from NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education offers recommendations on how colleges can rethink work-study programs to more intentionally prepare working students with career-ready skills.

“As time and resource constraints prevent students from engaging in unpaid co-curricular activities, on-campus employment is well positioned to serve as a paid learning and engagement opportunity that will improve student retention and connection to the institution,” the report reads.

At least 70 percent of undergraduate students have a job, according to a 2015 study by Georgetown University. And it’s estimated that 700,000 students participate in the Federal Work-Study program, a financial aid program that funds part-time employment for low-income working students.

Balancing work, studies and other personal responsibilities can be challenging. But some studies show that students who participate in federal work-study programs are more likely to graduate and land a job.

According to the report, 69 percent of surveyed institutions said retention and completion was a priority for student employment. However “improving students’ sense of financial security” was the top priority for respondents. The survey found schools where senior-level officials set student employment strategy are more likely (83 percent) to set goals around retention for these programs, compared with institutions where leadership is less involved (56 percent).

Today’s report provides suggestions for colleges and universities to improve their work-study programs. The recommendations include:

  • Create a hiring system that reflects what students may expect from future professional work opportunities, such as requiring a resume and interview processes, and clear job expectations.
  • Make retention and learning a goal of student employment opportunities.
  • Provide student employees with professional development opportunities and offer supervisors with clear guidelines and support to do so.
  • Help student employees document and evaluate their on-campus work experiences.

Carrying out these suggestions “requires institutions to first take stock of their student employment efforts to date, better understand the working needs of their students, and involve multiple offices across their campuses in thoughtful planning,” the report states.

Federal funds cover about 25 percent of student employment opportunities at four-year colleges and universities, according to the report, and 47 percent is covered by institutional funds. At public two-year colleges, the Federal Work-Study program covers 67 percent of student employment funding.

In his proposed 2020 budget, President Trump has called to cut funding for the Federal Work-Study program by more than 55 percent. This is the third year that the White House proposed reducing education funding. Congress previously ignored those proposals and increased education spending in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal cycles.

“Because students who participate in work-study are more likely to complete college, Congress should increase the program’s funding so more low-income students can benefit,” proponents for the Federal Work-Study program wrote in 2017.

Young Professionals on Campus

As campuses consider ways to improve experiences for student employees, young professionals employed full-time by institutions are similarly calling for increased support.

Research shows that up to 60 percent of student affairs professionals leave the field within their first five years. “The attrition rate right now is not something we should be proud of,” Paton Roden, coordinator of second year experience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said during a panel discussion this week at the NASPA conference in Los Angeles.

Reasons behind why younger student affairs professionals are leaving include burnout, salary offerings, limited room for advancement or issues with a supervisor. Chief among those concerns, one study suggests, often has to do with how undervalued these professionals feel in the workplace.

That finding resonated with several in the audience. During a breakout discussion, one audience member said he “doesn’t receive recognition from my supervisor for the work I put in.”

Undré Phillips, coordinator of student activities at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, explained that young student affairs professionals are required to meet with other employees similar in age once per month to network and brainstorm collaboration ideas. And he said that’s allowed employees like himself to better reflect on what kind of supports would help keep peers like him on the job.

“Sit down and talk with younger professionals about their long-term career goals, and their short-term goals,” Phillips said. “Allow new professionals a seat at the table, not necessarily to call the shots. But being a part of the process of a decision as it gets made is so important to a young professional in the field.”

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