December 2006

A periodic newsletter on a single topic of interest published by the Office of Higher Education

Student employees: The majority of undergraduates work while enrolled in school

Eighty-three percent of undergraduates in Minnesota work during the academic year. Students work while enrolled for various reasons, from earning extra cash for education, to gaining valuable experience. However, employment can divert time and energy from studies. The growing non-traditional student population is often older and maintains full-time employment. This population often views themselves as employees attending school, as opposed to students who work. This shift in perspective, and the subsequent trade-offs in the allocation of time and energy, is altering the undergraduate student experience.

This issue of Insight takes a closer look at undergraduate students who work in Minnesota. Based on the 2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey administered by the U.S. Department of Education, this issue attempts to gain a better understanding of the role of employment in the experience of Minnesota undergraduates today.

Attendance status is linked to undergraduate employment

Students attending on a less than full-time basis often hold full-time jobs and attend school on a part-time basis. Thus, students in this category would be expected to work more hours per week than their counterparts who are attending on a full-time basis. The greater work intensity reduces the time available to devote to studies.

Figure 1: Average hours worked per work and percent of undergraduates employed by attendance status in Minnesota

The figure above illustrates that students who work report working an average of 27 hours per week. Students attending on a part-time basis work 10 hours per week more than students attending on a full-time basis, on average. Interestingly, a large percentage of both full-time and part-time students reported working. Nevertheless, the largest percent of employed students was the group who attended part-time for the full academic year; approximately 91 percent of these students reported working, and they averaged 33 hours per week. These estimates include all types of employment, including work study and assistantships held on campus.

Minnesota undergraduates exhibit employment patterns similar to national estimates

Undergraduates in Minnesota exhibit employment patterns similar to those of undergraduates at the national level. In the U.S., approximately 78 percent of undergraduates reported working an average of 29 hours per week. Nationally, a significant percent of students reported working across all categories of attendance status.

Figure 2: Average hours worked per week and percent of undergraduates employed by attendance status in the U.S.

Fewer students enrolled in public four-year institutions worked than their counterparts in other institutional sectors

Overall, 17 percent of Minnesota undergraduates reported not working during the academic year. Work intensity varies by the type of institution attended. In the public four-year sector, approximately 24 percent of students reported not working compared to 13 percent in the public two-year and private not-for-profit four-year sectors. The figure below illustrates hours worked by students enrolled in the different institutional sectors. The categories range from those who did not work at all, the bottom category, to those who worked 40 hours or more, the topmost category. Public two-year institutions had the largest share of students working 40 hours or more per week, while public four-year institutions had the largest share of students not working at all.

Undergraduate students work in either off-campus jobs or on-campus jobs. Campus jobs include assistantships, work-study jobs, and jobs providing services on campus, such as the bookstore. The number of credit hours taken by a student in an academic year, may affect the eligibility for on-campus jobs.

Figure 3: Work intensity of undergraduate by institutional sector in Minnesota

Most students view themselves as students working to meet expenses

The student interviews used to gather this employment data included questions concerning student perspectives on employment. Students were asked whether they see themselves as primarily students working or employees attending school. The majority of students viewed themselves as students working to meet expenses, regardless of whether they attend on a full-time or part-time basis. A larger percent of full-time, full-year students (72 percent) considered themselves students who work as compared to 51 percent of part-time and/or part-year students.

Figure 4: How undergraduates in Minnesota perceive their primary role - student or employee

Students participate in the job market while concurrently pursing postsecondary education. For many years, a large percentage have reported working while enrolled.1 In Minnesota, work intensity is high and varies little regardless of income, dependent status, single-parent status and race. While the type of job held by students may vary, it is clear that employment plays a large role in the undergraduate experience. Some studies indicate that working more hours per week can have a negative effect on academic performance.2 A forthcoming Minnesota Office of Higher Education report focusing on non-traditional students finds that the majority of students did not feel that work negatively affected their academic performance. However, the results were closely related to their non-traditional status; non-traditional students were more likely to indicate adverse effects from employment on their school performance than traditional students.3 The effect of work on academic performance and persistence should receive further attention, particularly as it applies to access and persistence amongst diverse types of students.

For more information on undergraduate employment and other characteristics of the undergraduate population in Minnesota, please refer to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education report, Minnesota Undergraduate Demographics: Characteristics of Postsecondary Students or visit the links to the right.


  1. ACE Brief, "Working their way through college: student employment and its impact on the college experience" [ back ]
  2. NCES publication, "Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Education Institutions: 1995-96: With an essay on: Undergraduates Who Work" [ back ]
  3. Minnesota Office of Higher Education report, "Nontraditional undergraduates in Minnesota", based on the NPSAS 2003-2004 data set. [ back ]

The estimates presented in this article are based on data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS). The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education administered NPSAS. The survey aims to understand how students and their families finance education and to assess certain characteristics of students enrolled in postsecondary education. NPSAS does not contain representative data for the for-profit institutions at the state level. The state samples are representative only for students attending public two-year, public four-year and private not-for-profit institutions. Thus, the estimates in this report pertain to these three institution types. Student interviews provided the information on student employment during the 2003-2004 academic year.

In addition to the estimates, several graphs contain error bars. These error bars represent the 95 percent confidence interval of these estimates (which are approximately two standard errors below and above the average). The bars are used to indicate the magnitude of the standard error for estimates.

All estimates of amounts are rounded to three significant figures. All estimates of percents are rounded to the nearest whole number.

About the Office of Higher Education

The Office of Higher Education is a state agency providing students with financial aid programs and information to help them gain access to post-secondary education. The agency serves as the state's clearinghouse for data, research and analysis on post-secondary enrollment, financial aid, finance and trends.

The Minnesota State Grant program, which is administered by the agency, is a need-based tuition assistance program for Minnesota students. The agency also oversees tuition reciprocity programs, a student loan program, Minnesota's 529 college savings program, licensing and an early awareness outreach initiative for youth. Through collaboration with systems and institutions, the agency assists in the development of the state's education technology infrastructure and shared library resources.


Attendance status is linked to undergraduate employment

Minnesota undergraduates exhibit employment patterns similar to national estimates

Fewer students enrolled in public four-year institutions worked than their counterparts in other institutional sectors

Most students view themselves as students working to meet expenses


Undergraduate employment in the U.S.

Choosing degrees based on employment and income [subscription required]

Low-income students juggling work and school

Low-income students, work and college

Part-time students in Indiana


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Tricia Grimes
Shefali Mehta

Barb Schlaefer
Director of Communications