College jobs need college credit

By Abby Weber, Columnist

For most, working part-time or full-time during college is a necessity in order to make ends meet.  

According to a 2015 study by Georgetown University, 70 percent of college students hold down jobs while simultaneously working toward their undergraduate degree. Some are even both full-time students and full-time employees.

Trying to work while pursuing an academic degree has proven to negatively impact students’ lifestyles and grades, but without working, many of these students would not be able to pursue a degree at all. A 2015 study by Virginia Commonwealth University claims that “part-time work can negatively affect sleeping patterns, resulting in poorer academic performance and a diminished sense of overall well-being.”

This inevitable conflict between working to be able to attend school and actually doing well in school is deeply rooted in America’s growing socioeconomic gap problem. Students who have to work risk negatively impacting their grades, thus negatively impacting opportunities later in life. This cycle perpetuates young people’s inability to move upwardly in a socioeconomic society.

The privilege of not having to work to make ends meet results in more time during the day for classes, more time in the afternoon to study and engage in opportunities to grow as a person and more time at night to sleep and focus on self-care. Students who have to fill their free time with a job sometimes put academics and sleep on hold in order to make enough money just to buy something as basic as groceries.

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One way universities can work to amend this disadvantage many students face is by offering credit hours in exchange for proof of employment. University of Illinois requires students to engage in elective courses and general education requirements in order to develop knowledge outside of one’s major and grow as an active member of society. By allowing a student to use their experience in the working world to fulfill some of these requirements, this can help to amend the gap between a student’s working life and academic life.  

One example of how this could work is by requiring working students to bring proof of employment and pay stubs to their academic advisors. Advisors could then evaluate how many credit hours a student’s job should count toward finishing their degree. The University already defines one credit hour as “one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week.” Working off of this policy, if a student can prove they work, for example, twelve hours a week, and keep this schedule for a whole semester, then they could be eligible for four elective credit hours.

Another possibility is offering different University employment options as general education requirements. Working in a University library could count toward the nonwestern general education requirement.  Working for Campus Recreation could count toward the social science general education requirement. Working at Krannert Center could count toward the humanities general education requirement.

Providing students with the opportunity to combine work and school for just a couple credit hours or classes could be all the difference between graduating with a 2.5 GPA and graduating with honors. As the economy in America changes, making earning a degree more financially unrealistic now than ever, institutions of higher learning need to change too.

Otherwise, earning a degree will become something only attainable by those with financial privilege.   

Abby is a sophomore in LAS.

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