Place to work, study, sleep

July 12, 2002

The high cost of university life throughout the world is pushing more students into term-time jobs. The THES reports on some enterprising ways to raise cash.

With tuition fees rising faster than financial aid can keep pace, American students are increasingly working for their universities to pay their way.

The $1 billion-a-year (£650 million) Work-Study Program employs students at more than 3,000 universities. Students work as everything from dishwashers on campus to community volunteers for institutions. The government covers 75 per cent of the cost, and the schools pay 25 per cent.

Separately, universities also pay students to serve as resident advisers in dormitories, and as teaching assistants.

Work-study accounts for only a small portion of student employment; most of the almost 90 per cent of students who work at some point while in school do so off campus.

The percentage of full-time students at two and four-year colleges and universities who hold a job at any given time while enrolled has increased from about a third to nearly half in the past 25 years, according to the department of education.

During the same period, the percentage of full-time students working at least 20 hours a week has nearly doubled, from 14 to per cent.

The Work-Study Program represents a comparatively small portion of the financial aid on offer from the government, which spends $68 billion on low-interest loans and direct grants for needy students. But more students are resorting to it as loans steadily displace grants as the primary source of student aid.

Loans represent 59 per cent of aid, up from 41 per cent in 1980, according to the College Board, an association of US colleges and universities.

Students paid to serve as teaching assistants and resident advisers have begun demanding higher wages to keep pace with spiralling tuition fees, and many have tried to form unions.

Students won a victory when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that schools had "no basis to deny collective-bargaining rights to statutory employees merely because they are employed by an educational institution in which they are enrolled as students". Some have since organised and successfully sought higher pay.

Students in work-study are paid at the federal minimum wage up to a maximum amount that is determined in advance, based on their need.

Work-Study also helps universities, which get cheap labour in areas generally not covered by labour agreements. One magazine discovered earlier this year that some of the most prestigious universities were ignoring a requirement that at least 7 per cent of work-study students perform off-campus community service. One college in Florida has categorised a job answering campus telephones as community service.

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