Balancing work and academics
With the increasing cost of education and the desire for work experience, students are working more now than ever while taking on full course loads.
According to the Canadian University Consortium undergraduate student survey, which came out in 2011, on average, the 56 per cent of students who were employed at the time of the survey work 18 hours per week.
One in six students work full-time, defined as more than 30 hours per week.
Alysha Li, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), noticed a trend that university and college students are working more while in school, as the cost of tuition continues to amplify. In addition, the pressure to pay off student loans is a growing concern amongst working students.
“The trend that we see right now is that tuition has been increasing for the last few years and its becoming more or less affordable. In Ontario, we have the highest tuition in the country,” Li said.
“Students are working a lot more to pay off their student loans more and more each year.”
Previously, students had relied on their summer income to help pay the cost of their tuition. Li claims that students are now finding themselves in a situation where they cannot be assured that the summer income can offset the rise in tuition. This is becoming an increasing concern.
“At times when students normally relied on summer income to offset their tuition costs now is looking like it may not be sufficient,” Li added. “I think we need to work on adjusting the tuition issue and having more co-op and internship options for students.”
Li added that while students may feel the struggle of paying off their tuition costs, they could also benefit themselves by working in a job that will help them to procure a job after graduation.
“I think students are looking for the perfect harmony. They are looking for a job that would enhance both their employability skills as well as pay off their student loans,” Li explained.
“Not only will they pay off their tuition, they will get experience in the field that after graduation they can use to their advantage.”
Caleb Thompson, a third-year Neuroscience and Behaviours student at McMaster University, has been working as a waiter at a local pub for almost a year and a half to help pay for the cost of his pricey tuition.
“Being a student and also having a job definitely puts a lot of pressure on me, I sometimes feel like I can’t catch a break,” Thompson admitted.
“I would rather put most of my focuses into my studies, but I’m the one paying for my tuition and all my books. They’re not going to come free to me.”
Though Thompson has acknowledged that waiting on tables will not give him the experience he needs to become a neurologist, his main priority is to have enough money to continue his courses.
“Getting tips as a waiter has helped to pay for most of my textbooks this semester. If I’m still able to make enough money to put myself through school and still have good academics, I think it’s just a small price I have to pay.”
Gina Antonacci, the dean of social and community service at Humber College, has also acknowledged the amount of work that students have to deal with. While some students may use their busy workload as an excuse to get out of their assigned schoolwork, Antonacci claims that this is sometimes a valid excuse.
“Many of our students, in addition to coming to school and engaging in full-time programs, also have full-time jobs and other responsibilities. There is certainly the possibility that the student is frivolous or could be lying, but unfortunately, many times students are telling the truth,” Antonacci shared.
“Many times they are responsible for financing their own education, some are responsible for children and it is a real juggling act for them.”
Antonacci suggests that students practice time management skills in order to divide their time between school and work evenly.
She also suggests seeking guidance from on-campus assistance, as students can effectively assess their strengths and weaknesses.
“Students today have a lot on their plate. A lot of them are in a position where they have to work and they also, of course, academically want to get ahead and be successful in their programs,” Antonacci added.
“Sometimes it is not unreasonable to accommodate the students with short-term accommodation, but it cannot be a long-term solution. They have to create their own strategies to enable them to be successful.”
56% Students who said they were employed at the time of OUSA’s 2011 survey
18 Hours the average students works while in school
1 in 6 Students from the survey said they worked more than 30 hours a week
$7,180 The average of cost of tuition in Ontario