Community College students could graduate faster and with better grades if they spent less time working at their jobs and more time studying and taking classes, according to a new report, entitled “Working Too Hard to Make the Grade,” released today by the public interest group CALPIRG. Community college students surveyed reported working an average of 23 hours per week to cover college costs, leaving them without enough time to focus on academics.
At the same time, many community college students had basic misunderstandings about financial aid, and the less they understood the less likely they were to have applied for aid. These factors likely contribute to low graduation rates, only 24% of community college students who intend to earn an associates’ degree or transfer to a four-year institution succeed in doing so within six years.
“People think community colleges are cheap” said Chloe Kaliman, CALPIRG student at Santa Monica College, “but fees are only about 5% of the total cost of attendance, and so most students have no choice but to work long hours to get through school.” However, less than one-quarter of students surveyed felt that they were able to balance work and study well.
Many survey respondents felt that their work hours made it difficult for them to keep up with their schoolwork. Others felt their employment commitments kept them from taking another class, or being more involved on campus.
When asked three basic questions about financial aid, only ten percent of survey respondents were able to answer all correctly. Those who knew the least about financial aid were also the least likely to have applied for it. The report recommends that financial aid offices work to clear up basic misunderstandings and help students fill out the FAFSA and receive all of the aid for which they are eligible.
CALPIRG also created a Year Book style anthology of students’ personal stories highlighting the issues they face balancing work and study. One student from Santa Monica College writes “My day consists of waking up early, going to classes and then work and then home in time to study; hoping that I can piece together 5-6 hours of sleep.” Another from Fresno City College writes “I work at Taco Bell where I’m the general manager and it requires at least 45 hours a week. It’s common to get a call from work asking me to drop everything and be there. It’s almost impossible to go to school.”
“We need to increase our investment in higher education and fund state financial aid programs adequately, so that students can afford to focus on academics,” Says Zomer. “Reading through some of these stories you can’t help but be impressed by the students’ determination to succeed, but for many of them the obstacles are ultimately too great. Why are we setting students up to fail? Let’s make it possible for them to succeed “we’ll all benefit.”
CALPIRG is a statewide, non-profit public interest organization, with chapters at eleven campuses in California: Visit www.calpirgstudents.org for more information about CALPIRG’s Getting to Graduation Campaign.
San Diego, CA