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Monday, April 20th, 2009 - 2:52 pm

Working with working students to work through challenges of work

Ryan Strode, who worked his way through Purdue Calumet before graduating last spring with a history degree, called it “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Ryan StrodeReferring to his ongoing juggling act of holding multiple jobs while maintaining full time student status, he added, “I wouldn’t recommend it. I only did it out of necessity.”

Purdue Calumet officials contend employment-related issues are among the top challenges affecting PUC students’ efforts to persist in their degree pursuit.

A 2006 Working Students Collaborative survey indicated that some 35 percent of students 21 and younger who have remained in northwest Indiana to attend college spent 21 to 30 hours a week working at one or more jobs. Another 30 percent worked 30 to 40 weekly hours. According to a 2005 survey of Purdue Calumet, Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College students, 35 percent of 318 respondents from Purdue Calumet held full time jobs.

Purdue Calumet Chancellor Howard Cohen says the relatively large number of Purdue Calumet students who work do so out of necessity. “Universities have been very slow to understand students’ other life commitments,” he said. “Those who are working full time and going to school full time aren’t doing so because they are bored; they’re doing so because they need to work in order to pay for their schooling.”

But when being both a student and an employee become too much to handle, something has to give. More often, it’s one’s student status that is compromised, if not interrupted-temporarily or otherwise.

Follow-up studies and focus groups, however, indicate that among working students there’s a 13 percent higher enrollment retention rate of those employed on campus than those who work elsewhere.

“Working on campus, you’re a student first, and your supervisors treat you that way,” said Strode, who eventually traded his job as a paint salesman for various on-campus positions. “When I worked at the paint store, if I was needed at work, I had to be there; my student status was secondary. There is an enormous benefit to working on campus.”

During the 2007-08 academic year, 836 Purdue Calumet students collected a campus paycheck. The total is up to nearly 880 this year; in fact, the figure has been rising steadily since 2002.

Purdue Calumet Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Quality Programs Beth Pellicciotti says the reasons on-campus employment makes such a difference for students goes deeper than just the convenience of working where they attend school. Students who participated in recent focus groups indicated their jobs have meaning and provide a sense of belonging. They also acknowledged they are with like-minded people supervised by individuals who support their commitment to their education. What’s more, they said, they are gaining valuable career skills.

Additionally, working on campus helps students become more engaged within the campus community, while better positioning them to learn about and take advantage of support services and opportunities that can contribute to their academic success.

“Sometimes support can come from home, sometimes support can come from campus,” Pellicciotti said. “On-campus employment and student activities are just some of the ways students can feel connected and draw support when the going gets tough.”