What I'd give for a couple extra bucks

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 at 1:45 PM
What I'd give for a couple extra bucks  by Hannah McDonald
Graphic: Shelby Kirk

Two of the biggest stressors for college students? Lack of time and money. Unfortunately, these two often go hand in hand. To earn money, one must work, which, on top of a heavy course load, guarantees a lack of free time. All this considered, it’s not rare for students to hold jobs while in college. Actually, it’s quite common.

“Nearly 4 out of 5 college students are working part-time while studying for their degrees, averaging 19 hours a week,” Tyler Kingkade said in an article and survey for The Huffington Post.

Although the article was published in 2013, these findings are not out of date or uncommon. Hilary Strahota, of Georgetown University, said in 2015: “About 14 million college students are working, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. For the past 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been taking time from their studies to earn a paycheck.”

These students not only make the choice to hold a job, they also choose where they look for employment. Most colleges and universities offer employment for students on campus in the form of work-study programs. If this is not available, there are usually still regular job openings that students can apply for.

Working on campus isn’t always the most appealing or convenient option. Positions are competitive, the number of hours that students can work is limited, and the pay may leave quite a bit to be desired.

At Edinboro University, most of the campus positions are paid minimum wage, which in the state of Pennsylvania is $7.25.

Weighing these facts, students may choose to work off campus.

Some may even choose to travel home on weekends to work — or more often — to hold positions that they worked at before or in between school sessions. Four Edinboro students chose this option. Each traveled or travels home to work under different circumstances, but the common theme for all is the goal to make some extra money.

Morgan Whitlow, a freshman and honors student, left school over Labor Day weekend to work. She works as a lifeguard at Allegany State Park in New York. During the summer, she works a full week of 40 hours. Over the long weekend, she was scheduled for 16 hours over two days. Despite the nearly two-hour drive, it was worth it for Whitlow financially.

“Oh, I definitely got more money than I spent on gas because I met up with my boyfriend and he drove me halfway there,” Whitlow said. At the state park, she made $13.25 an hour. That is $6 more an hour than she would have made remaining on campus and working.

Leaving campus for a long weekend when there are parties to be attended and friends to hang out with may not appeal to everyone, but for Whitlow, the choice to earn a nice paycheck made up for it. “I don’t really regret it because I probably wasn’t going to be doing anything anyways since I didn’t know anyone and since I’m a freshman,” she said.

“It was kind of an easy choice to make for me. I was able to get some money and spend the weekend with some people I already knew and [I] get to go home,” continued Whitlow.

That being said, Whitlow assured that under different circumstances, she wouldn’t have gone back. The holiday pay and the carpooling made the decision for her. “I wouldn’t want to drive back every weekend, knowing how much homework I already have this early in the semester.”

Kelli Conley no longer attends Edinboro University, but when she did last year, she worked nearly 30 hours a week at Starbucks in Millcreek as a barista while enrolled full-time at school.

An average of $80 in gas a month definitely made a dent in her paycheck, Conley said, but for her, it was worth it. “I got paid $9.50 instead of $7.25 and then I got tips as well. They let me work more hours than on-campus [employment] would have let me,” she said.

Thirty hours is a lot of time away from campus. In 30 hours, many things could be missed, but like Whitlow, Conley didn’t mind. When asked how working full-time while in school affected her college experience, she said: “I don’t really think it affected it negatively at all. If anything, it made me more focused, being able to work a job and come back and just get all of my work done.

“Sometimes, when there were events going on and I couldn’t take off of work because they wouldn’t allow me for, say Pokémon night, or something, I missed out on a lot of fun nights like that, but I think it was worth it because I was able to save up a lot of money.”

Savings is at the heart of the decision for most students. Lizzie Birmingham works at Pizza Hut in Erie as a production cook. “I usually go home every weekend to work that job,” Birmingham said.

“Sometimes I work Friday through Sunday and other times I just work Saturday and Sunday. Depending on how many days I work, I usually get between 14 and 17 hours while I’m there.”

“For my finances, it helps me be able to pay for school because I am getting that extra money that I wouldn’t be getting if I didn’t continue to work there,” she said. “I get extra money to spend and pay off school faster than I would if I didn’t work at my job at home.”

One has to pay for gas and spend money to travel, but in cases like Conley and Birmingham, the income outweighed the expenses. For senior communications major Pat Ware, a tuition reimbursement of nearly $5,000 prompted him to commute home to Pittsburgh one weekend a month.

He began working as a crew member at Chipotle the summer after his sophomore year at Edinboro. “[The tuition reimbursement] was definitely the main reason I did it...during school,” Ware said. “It’s also because I like Chipotle so much that staying hired on was nice because you get discounts on food and stuff like that.”

While going home to work and completing a full course load, Ware also held a job on campus in the art office. He liked both for different reasons. “The on-campus job was good because it’s convenient, [and] it works well with your schedule. They always schedule you around your class schedule, which is very nice,” Ware said. “Chipotle, obviously, the main motivation was to get that tuition reimbursement because basically after a year of employment at Chipotle, they give you roughly $5,000 back in tuition (Chipotle’s Educational Assistance Program). That’s the big deal.”

Unfortunately, Ware did not receive the tuition assistance due to conflicts within the store and miscommunication. In spite of his situation, he still recommends it to any student willing to travel off campus. “If a company offers that, it’s definitely important to try!

And I definitely tried,” Ware said. “It wasn’t that I was being lazy. I mean...I went back to school in August, September, I went back [to work] October, November and December. All those months I went back. And even in December, I was working a different job in the post office and I still saved a certain amount of days to work at Chipotle to make it work because I still wanted that tuition reimbursement.”

“It’s a good opportunity. I know Starbucks does the same thing, [and] Sheetz. A lot of companies are starting to adapt to this new thing,” Ware said. “[It’s] definitely something that you should look into because if it’s only a year of work that you have to stay on the schedule, then that’s good because you can save a lot of money. With how expensive college is, I think you should always give it a try.”

A more comfortably lined bank account and a lighter load of loans are tempting, but being away from campus can affect one’s college experience. For all, working off campus while attending school affected college life, some positively and some more negatively.

“One thing that I regret about choosing to continue working at Pizza Hut during the school year is that I miss out on a lot of stuff on campus. I miss going to football games, homecoming, and other small activities around campus,” Birmingham said.

“It’s like I just live [on campus] during the week and it’s not a permanent home during school like it is for other students,” Birmingham continued. “I don’t get that complete independent feel from college.”

“I guess I sacrificed some ‘fun college weekends,’” said Ware. “It’s really not that bad. You kind of look at it as an opportunity to further yourself and get more money.”

Although different from one another, the experiences of these students are not unique. Based on economic trends, a time when students could afford to attend school — and have money in their pockets without work — looks to be a time of the past. In the future, students will continue to carry the burden of school work, a social life and a job. Students will have to weigh the pros and cons of going off campus to find work. Years from now, college graduates who worked while in school will look back on college life. Will they regret missing that football game or event on campus? Or will they thank themselves for putting in the hard work and sacrificing their free time for some extra cash?

Hannah McDonald is the assistant news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com. 

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