The modern student is defined by unsettling job reports and rising college costs. The history of higher education in the United States is curious, considering the recent societal expectations of a receiving an undergraduate degree.
Actually, higher education was linked to religious institutions, much like Albion College, which was founded in 1835 by the Methodist Church. At that time, a college degree was usually only attainable by wealthy, white, Protestant men.
Today, the United States has over 4,409 degree-granting institutions, and the average American student has over $27,000 in debt. Albion students, who pay $43,844 a year, have different ways of paying the tuition.
“I think it would be a challenge [to work full time and be a student],” said Lisa Locke, director of human resources. “Not everyone has the time management to do that, not to mention the stamina. If you’re in classes and holding down a 40 hour-per-week job, when are you sleeping? When are you eating? When are you doing the homework?”
Some students don’t have the option of a 40 hour-per-week job.
“There are some students who would not be eligible,” Locke said. “If you are an international student, you may not work 40 hours. You are limited to 20 hours-per-week.”
Bridget Salogar, Ferndale junior, is on work-study and has been working at the Eat Shop since last year.
“I work 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., and I get out of class at 4 p.m.,” Salogar said. “I have no time for homework at all. I can’t do homework while I’m there. I work the entire night without any time for homework until after 12:30 or 1:00 a.m.”
Dannie Fountain, Lexington junior, has worked 10 jobs on campus and three jobs off campus. She works an average 55 hours-per-week and sometimes overnight.
“It’s nearly impossible sometimes to ensure that I can work, go to school and have a social life,” Fountain said. “There have been times when I’ve gone 36 to 48 hours working and going to school without actually getting some sleep.”
For students like Salogar and Fountain, there isn’t another option for trying to tackle the high tuition costs.
“The amount of money you make is not enough to support the tuition here,” Salogar said. “There is no way where you can work enough to pay your tuition and go to class and do the homework.”
Fountain knows it comes down to basic math.
“If I were to take the cost of my Burns Street apartment alone, calculate the amount it costs, then include the interest rate on my loan, and consider that I won’t start paying that loan off until at least November 2014, the additions are insane,” Fountain said.
Working these longs hours while keeping up with rigorous academics takes a toll on work-study students.
“I would say it affects my time management and my abilities to do all the readings for class,” Salogar said. “Having a couple hours to do a paper at 1 a.m. compared to all day is a different thing.”
“I wish I could say that I study more, but unless it’s a paper or a project, homework takes a backseat priority to my work responsibilities, and my grades often reflect that,” Fountain said.
Ann Whitmer, financial aid director, believes that students may actually benefit from working and studying.
“Studies show that students who are working minimally, so less than 15 hours a week, tend to do better academically because they’re connected to the campus in a different way than just being a student,” Whitmer said. “If you’re working in a research lab or being a tour guide, you’re seeing the campus from a different point of view.”
Working helps first-years adjust from high school, too.
“It also helps entering students with time management, so we do encourage students to work if they can and choose to.” Whitmer said.
Luckily, at Albion, 98 percent of students are receiving scholarships or financial aid. The majority of those funds come from the college.
“We have some funds that are donated by alumni or friends of the college,” Whitmer said. “A lot of the financial aid comes through the federal government, and the state also provides some resources. Students also bring in external scholarships, and then the college provides some of its resources to assist students in meeting their costs.”
Whitmer, who has been working with student financial aid for over 25 years, has seen some students pay their way through college without debt.
“We usually have a couple of students who can cover their costs by outside scholarships,” Whitmer said. “They’ll piece together quite a few to cover those costs.”
If she could change one thing about financing a college education, it would be more funds from the state or federal government.
“There are some really good programs that we just can’t fund at the level we would like, for example our work-study,” Whitmer said. “While we can cover a lot of the work-study funds here, we’d love to be able to give more.”
For a national perspective on this story, read Ron Lieber’s piece from The New York Times.
Photo by Megan Sheridan